Champion swimmer to represent Ireland in soccer

An Olympic gold medal winning swimmer, who has also become a star on the soccer pitch, will represent his hometown of Carrick-on-Suir and Ireland in the World Special Olympics Games this summer.

An Olympic gold medal winning swimmer, who has also become a star on the soccer pitch, will represent his hometown of Carrick-on-Suir and Ireland in the World Special Olympics Games this summer.

Gary Tobin from Treacy Park has been selected for the Irish Special Olympics soccer team that will compete in the Athens Games in June.

The 37 year-old is Carrick-on-Suir's only representative on the Irish Special Olympics team and he told The Nationalist he is looking forward to the challenge ahead.

He is a no stranger to the World Special Olympics Games, which will bring 10,000 athletes from 180 countries together in Athens between June 25 and July 4.

The Carrick man is a veteran of the 1995 Special Olympics in Connecticut in the US and 2003 Special Olympics in Dublin. He won an impressive haul of three gold medals, two silver and two bronze in swimming over the two Olympics.

Gary swam with the Dolphin Swimming Club in Clonmel from an early age and when he gave up the sport a few years ago he turned his attention to soccer.

He put in as much training and dedication to his new sport and joined a Special Olympics soccer club in Waterford.

Gary, who is a midfielder, is one of three members of the Waterford club chosen for the Irish team and is focusing all his energies at the moment on preparing for the Special Olympics.

"I am training hard, very hard. I was up in Dublin last Saturday and Sunday training with the Irish team. I will have another day in Dublin on February 5 and a few more after that," said the Special Olympian, who works on the farm at the Knocklofty Project near Clonmel when not playing sport.

Cheering him on in Athens will be a strong contingent of proud members of his large family. His sister Helen Quinlan, who will be at the Games supporting him with her husband and three children, said all his family were thrilled and proud of his achievements.

"When we got the news he was on the Irish team it was just unbelieveable. "Gary is always out playing soccer with his friends. Everytime I see him he has a football."

Carrick-on-Suir woman Pauline Fitzgerald from Dunbane will be helping Gary and the other members of the Irish Special Olympics team at the World Games.

She is a member of the 200 strong Volunteer for Athens squad, the team of Special Olympics Ireland registered volunteers, who will be supporting the 121 Irish athletes at the Games. "It was fantastic when the Special Olympians came to the town in 2003. There was a great buzz around," she recalls.

Pauline's involvement with Special Olympics Ireland began in 2003 when Ireland hosted the World Special Olympics Games. Carrick-on-Suir hosted members of the Slovakian team during the Olympics and Helen, who was working with the Irish Wheelchair Association at the time, was one of the local volunteers, who supported them during their stay.

Before heading to Athens, Pauline must raise €3250 for Special Olympics Ireland and has been working hard with her local committee to reach that target.

Pauline and her committee ran table quizzes in the Carraig Hotel in December and in November, she hosted a mini auction with supper in her house. These events were well supported by local people and she wishes to thank everyone for their generosity.

The next major fundraiser is the Songs of Praise & Reflections night in the chapel of the Nano Nagle Community Resource Centre this Friday, January 28 at 8pm.

It promises to be a wonderful evening of entertainment, featuring many well known talented local artists all of whom are giving up their time freely in support of the Special Olympics Ireland.

Tickets are available from the Nano Nagle Community Resource Centre and cost €5. All are welcome.