INVOLVEMENT IN sporting organisations has always been central to Geoff Vickers’ life, as both a player and later as a long-serving committee member in both mainstream community and Special Olympics clubs.
“I can’t think of a time when I haven’t been playing sport,” Geoff says.
Growing up in Gymea, one of seven siblings, the Sutherland Shire surfer boy’s sporting prowess stemmed from his childhood bid for independence.
“The criteria for us to be allowed to go to the beach by ourselves was that we had to be able to swim a mile unaided.”
Geoff duly applied himself to passing the test, with the knock-on effect of becoming a competitive swimmer through his teens.
He parlayed a plumbing apprenticeship with his dad into a stellar career with Sydney Water spanning almost 37 years, during which he progressed into major project management roles overseeing teams in the hundreds. Demand for his invaluable experience sees Sydney Water continuing to call on him as a consultant – unwillingness to allow Geoff to ‘retire’ is a common theme across his professional and volunteer roles.
His outstanding contribution in voluntary Special Olympics positions began when his youngest son Daniel was seven, in 1991, and Geoff saw an advertisement for the organisation’s local club in the community newspaper, St George and Sutherland Shire Leader.
Daniel has an intellectual disability, as well as cystic fibrosis, and his prognosis was that he would live until he was 14. Specialist advice had recommended exercise as beneficial to Daniel’s condition, so he joined Special Olympics Sydney South Club. Before long, Geoff was lured into coaching the club’s athletics program, and inevitably drawn into committee positions. By the 2002 National Games, he was coaching the NSW athletics squad and still coordinates the athletics programs across the state.
Father and son have continued their parallel trajectory along Special Olympics pathways, which has seen Geoff in various key organisational roles. These include Head of Delegation for NSW teams of more than 300 athletes at the 2006 National Games on the Gold Coast and 2010 National Games in Adelaide, and chair of the National Selection Committee responsible for choosing athletes to attend World Games.
For the past 10 years, Geoff has chaired the Sydney South Club, while Daniel is now 36 and still training, competing, and socialising enthusiastically through Special Olympics. Although Geoff treasures the memory of Daniel winning his first ribbon, he says that for the athletes, “it’s not about competition, it’s about having a good time with their friends and doing the best they can”.
Having given almost 30 years of energetic service to the Sydney South Club, Geoff is a finalist in Westfield’s Local Heroes community grants program and in the running to win funding to help cover club running costs such as venue hire and athlete uniforms. With most athletes being pensioners, the club subsidises as many of those costs as possible.
“This year has been hard for everybody, especially in relation to raising funds, so it would be great to get the grant.”
Geoff would like to see someone else take up the opportunity to be club chair but says he would be happy to mentor his successor. Whatever comes next, it is certain that Geoff’s extensive organisational knowledge and experience will continue to be called on across the network of Special Olympics staff, volunteers, and athletes – and that he will answer.
Vote for Geoff to win a Westfield Local Hero community grant here