PARTICIPATION, sportsmanship and brain development were the important elements when athletes with special needs participated in eight disciplines at the 37th annual Special Olympics National Games, yesterday.

From as early as 8 am participants competed in athletics, football, bocce, powerlifting, swimming, equestrian, basketball and volleyball. The events, such as football and basketball, included a skills challenge.

Athletes who represented TT at the 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates were among the competitors. Some of the venues used were the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Jean Pierre Complex (both in Mucurapo) and Long Circular Gym (St James).

The day was not only about sports, as part of the Jean Pierre Complex was transformed into a health centre where athletes benefitted from dental care and foot care.

Among the institutions that took part at the Games were Happy Haven (Tobago), Tobago School for the Deaf, St Ann's Hospital, Goodwill Industries, National Centre for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD) and all the Lady Hochoy Homes including Arima, Cocorite and Penal.

Anjaana Downes, marketing representative of Special Olympics TT, said the athletes are eager to win medals, but taking part is important.

"At the end of day they are competing to win so a gold medal will mean a lot to anybody regardless of their ability, but taking part really is the greatest joy for them. It is about sportsmanship and it is about competing with not just people who come from their schools, but people who come from the various schools."

Ronald De Silva, a basketball coordinator at the Games, says the athletes with disabilities cannot be taken lightly.

"It develops their minds because many of these athletes when they do things over and over memory is built. The skills contest also helps them learn to think. We underestimate a lot of them, they may take a much longer time to learn, but they can."

Leanna Huntley, head of Healthy Athletes and Fit Feet, was glad to share health tips to the special athletes.

"It is quite rewarding...we volunteer our time and it is really rewarding for us because we know that some of these athletes because of different family circumstances and because they are attached to schools they may not have the benefit of some of these services."

At the Hasely Crawford Stadium the warm weather did not affect the excitement among the athletes with the 50-metre walk, 50m run, 100m run, 200m run and the softball throw among the events contested.

Three teams were in action in football at the Hasely Crawford Stadium training ground with NCPD, Happy Haven and Lady Hochoy Penal competing. A skills contest was held which required the athletes to compete in a number of drills including dribbling for 15 metres. Stefan Quemmier of Goodwill and Darrion Joseph of Lady Hochoy Penal were among the winners.

At the Jean Pierre Complex, basketballers were also required to demonstrate their skills by dribbling around cones along with playing matches. NCPD, Memisa and Pointe-a-Pierre Special School were some of the schools involved.