By Samuel Smith
Published: Wednesday, November 27, 2019
Do you remember where you met your best friend? Perhaps it was on the playground in primary school, or at your first job.
Maybe you bumped shoulders in a crowded university lecture theatre.
For Olympic gold medallist, Rachel Fenwick, lifelong friendships have been forged amidst the clatter of busy bowling alleys.
Competing alongside more than 250 athletes with intellectual disabilities, 22-year-old Rachel took home a trifecta of tenpin bowling medals at the Special Olympics State Games over the weekend.
Held at Marion Bowland and Westminster School, this year’s games incorporated basketball, netball, tenpin bowling, swimming and football.
Rachel won gold, silver and a bronze.
No stranger to success, she’s competed at state, national and international levels.
Last year, Rachel represented Australia at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi, bringing home gold.
But for Rachel and her family, the Special Olympics means so much more than medals.
“It’s been the makings of her, in a way,” says mum, Sharon.
“She’s made so many friends. It’s sort of evolved into what we call the bowing family.
“Just being involved with the Special Olympics, her confidence has soared. She loves meeting new people now, and always wants to try new things.”
Rachel discovered her talent for bowling in high school and began training with Special Olympics Australia soon after.
She now plays twice a week, and is regularly involved in competitions. Being part of the Special Olympics has taught Rachel invaluable lessons about responsibility.
“The World Games in Abu Dhabi made her aware of other cultures, and it was the first time we were away from her for so long,” says Sharon.
“Rachel got to experience so much, without me and her sister. It taught her about being responsible, and she loved it.”
Rachel was diagnosed with an intellectual disability when she was in kindergarten and struggled with self-confidence, especially in primary school.
Through the Special Olympics, she’s met lifelong friends, travelled overseas and grown as a person.
World Games medallist and Special Olympics mentor, Krystel Pugsley’s story isn’t dissimilar.
The 22-year-old basketballer won gold at this weekend’s State Games.
Throughout her career, she’s travelled the world, winning gold in the 2019 Abu Dhabi World Games, gold in the Adelaide National Games, and experiencing huge success in state and national competitions.
“Special Olympics has given me fantastic opportunities and I’ve competed locally and interstate,” says Krystel.
“I also get to mentor and coach other athletes as a member of the Special Olympics SA Athlete Leadership Program.
“I try my hardest to win, but I’m here to have fun and see different people. I feel excited, honoured and proud to represent South Australia.”
At age 12, Krystel was the youngest athlete to compete in the Special Olympics Junior National Games, where she won 4 gold medals and 1 silver.
But her journey hasn’t been without struggles.
“Krystel was diagnosed with a genetic disorder called Trisomy X when she was about 6 years-old,” says mum, Naomi.
“Trisomy X affects females, and results in them having an extra X chromosome. People affected are often tall in stature, but can have social awkwardness and learning difficulties.”
Over the years, Krystel has had her ups and downs, but with the support of Special Olympics, she’s thrived.
“Krystel had trouble keeping friends, but Special Olympics means she now has friends all over Australia, and even quite a few overseas,” says Naomi.
Krystel’s basketball career began after a specialist recommended she try a sport that would help her develop hand-eye coordination.
Being tall for her age, basketball seemed like the perfect fit.
While training as part of an inclusive basketball program, her coach recommended she join the Special Olympics. It’s been nothing but upwards from there.
Special Olympics Australia offers high quality sports training and competition opportunities for people with an intellectual disability.
They run regular training in athletics, basketball, bocce, bowling, cricket, equestrian, football, golf, gymnastics, netball, sailing, softball, swimming, table tennis, tennis and winter sports.
Each year, athletes can choose to compete in hundreds of competitions locally, nationally and internationally.
This year, the Special Olympics received an RAA Grassroots Giving grant which included access to community marquees as well as giveaways including sunscreen, skipping ropes and footballs.