Sixteen Special Olympics Ulster athletes have been recognised at a celebration in Parliament Buildings hosted by Department for Communities Permanent Secretary, Colum Boyle.
Congratulating the achievements of the athletes, who participated as part of Team Ireland at the 2023 Special Olympics World Games in Berlin, Colum said:
"I would like to pay tribute to our Special Olympics athletes and their fantastic achievements in Berlin this summer. I hope that, as well as excelling in their relevant sports, they were able to enjoy new life experiences with teammates.
"The athletes' selection and participation at the World Games is an amazing achievement, which will inspire a new generation of athletes be more active and take up a new sporting challenge. The success also showcases the progress being made to increase participation in all sports here, offering greater opportunities to those interested in pursuing their sporting ambitions."
Colum also paid tribute to the staff at Special Olympics, the coaches, clubs and volunteers.
"Without their commitment, dedication and hard work the opportunities for those who take part in the Special Olympics would be greatly diminished."
The Special Olympics Ulster athletes contributed 31 medals (12 gold, 8 silver and 11 bronze) to a total haul by Team Ireland of 75 medals. The successes came in sports that included gymnastics, kayaking, football, golf, bocce and basketball.
CEO Special Olympics Ireland, Matt English echoed the Permanent Secretary's sentiments. Matt said: "Every member of Team Ireland has done their local clubs, communities, the Ulster Region and indeed the whole island of Ireland proud. They have inspired so many people with their dedication and sporting spirit.
"The support from the Department for Communities and other funding Departments has been so critical and a catalyst for the success achieved. It is a fitting acknowledgement to the whole team's achievements at the Special Olympics World Games and indeed to all the athletes who train weekly at the clubs across Northern Ireland.
"The athletes' skill and dedication coupled with the support of our volunteer led management team and coaches' hard work, truly paid off and led to so many outstanding performances. I would like to sincerely thank everyone who played their part in helping these athletes' dreams come true. We are grateful for the support of all our valued partners who provide vital funding and other services."