My first contact with Special Olympics occurred in the early 1980’s. I was on the executive committee of the Kiwanis Club of Sydney with the late Barry Easy OAM when we received a letter from the USA headquarters saying that this organisation Special Olympics was seeking to grow its presence in Australia and asking us to assist.
We reached out to the other states through Kiwanis which was the forerunner of the establishment of Special Olympics Australia initially just a committee and in 1990 the company was formed with Barry Easy the Chair and I was a Founding Member (along with the late Susan Grealy from Qld plus the 3 state programs) and Director.
Through Barry’s initiatives the Asia Pacific Leadership Council was subsequently formed which he chaired. I followed his footsteps a few years later which resulted in becoming a member of the International Leadership Council and a seat on the SOI Board which I served for 5 years. In subsequent years have held positions including State Chair, Board Chair, CEO and currently Chair of Sydney Northern Beaches where we have a great team of volunteers and wonderful athletes. Coaching our golfers is one of my most rewarding activities.
Rex Langthorne AM (right) with son, Peter Langthorne (left)
Some of the achievements that I look back on are, forming the company Special Olympics Australia, organising rent free premises for our very first office via my employer, securing national insurance coverage, arranging the very first grant from the Australian Sports Commission, supporting outreach and growth of programs, signing up the IGA relationship, introducing the sport of golf into Australia, arranged for the Athlete Leadership Program to be introduced and organised the Healthy Athlete Program to be part of our National Games.
The thing that I love about Special Olympics is seeing the athletes achieve beyond their wildest dreams with the support and effort of the many dedicated volunteers. There are several examples such as the athletes who became involved in our swimming program but could not swim when he first registered who after a lot of work by volunteer coaches went on to win gold medals at both the Special Olympics World Games and Paralympics. Or the young man whose parents were told to institutionalize him and get on with their lives who through coaching and support became a competent golfer, playing and beating his father, became a member of the golf club playing in regular weekly events with other members where he is respected and included, playing in the final of the club ‘C’ grade championships to be narrowly beaten. But also, he scored a hole in one in a competition on his 21st birthday. The weekly training and joy that the athletes receive by coming together to train and play sport is fundamental to Special Olympics.
There are many great memories over the years like witnessing an athlete Gabrielle Clark receive a standing ovation from 500 participants at an IGA conference following her inspirational speech. Or the World Games in Ireland particularly the Host Town program in Armagh where religion was put aside and the bishops’ and congregations from the opposing religious bodies came together as one for a service for our athletes. Meeting so many interesting and famous people from around the world is an experience I cherish. However, the standout would be meeting with the founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver at New Haven Connecticut. Such an eloquent and inspirational leader.
My hope for the future is that we do not lose sight of our purpose for being and continue to provide a place for the athletes and families to belong and enjoy the many benefits that this can provide.
It has been a wonderful journey thus far and happy that my family involvement will continue.