From someone who didn’t fit in and always felt left out at the school sports day, to being appointed as an athlete ambassador for Special Olympics New Zealand, Monique Irvine has come a long way.
Half Moon Bay resident Monique is one of the six athletes with intellectual disabilities handpicked to be a global messenger for Special Olympics New Zealand.
She and five others will take part in four workshops this year focussed on goal setting, communication and presentation, networking, planning and development.
“Being selected as a global messenger is a huge achievement and an amazing opportunity for the athletes,” says Julia Sanson, regional team leader for Special Olympics.
Having just returned from a workshop in Wellington, Monique – the only representative from Auckland – says she enjoys the challenge of visiting schools, helping with their sports days and encouraging students to give everything a go.
“I feel really proud to be a global messenger. I love encouraging people like me to become fit and healthy and enjoy sport and social opportunities that Special Olympics can offer. It’s all about inclusion,” Monique says.
The 28-year-old champion swimmer, who represented New Zealand at the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles, took second place at the World Summer Games and missed gold by a split-second.
“There is nothing better than hearing your name being yelled from the sidelines and maybe winning a ribbon or medal,” she says.
Monique believes Special Olympics is all about finishing and it doesn’t matter if you are helping someone from your own team or someone else’s.
She is grateful that she has been involved with Special Olympics since she was six-years-old.
Seeing her discomfort at a local primary school sports day, one of the Special Olympics coordinators approached her mother Astrid and asked her to bring Monique along to a school programme she was running.
Monique soon joined the junior athletics team where we did running, ball handling skills and had a go at many different sports.
“A lot of these athletes are still my friends today,” she says.
Winner of the Howick Local Board Sports Award for Disabled Athletes in 2015 and 2016, she has participated in eight different sporting games and has recently added one more to her list– cheer leading.
“An important part of being an athlete with the Special Olympic family is that it benefits the parents and caregivers too.
“Every athlete needs backing not just from their club but also from parents and family. A big group of my mum and dad’s friends are from Special Olympics and they support each other so there are benefits for them as well.”
Monique recently addressed students and staff at the Pegasus Unit, Pakuranga College and students at Beachlands Primary School.
“My goal is to make people aware of this great organisation and how being involved is not only about sporting opportunities but also about networking and friendship with people from around New Zealand.”
She says she would like to get involved with helping junior athletes “and help train them the same way Aroha, the sports coordinator trained me.”