GOING FOR GOLD…
Multi-talented Robert Holden is all set for the Special Olympics Summer Games next year after being chosen to be part of the Team GB golf squad. Photography: Stephen Nicholls
Having already competed in the Special Olympics Winter Games, talented sportsman Robert Holden was thrilled to learn he will be in the GB golf squad competing in the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi.
His achievement is all the more remarkable as Robert, who has autism and ADHD, has already competed as a 22-year-old skier at the Special Olympics World Winter Games in South Korea where he won three medals – including a gold!
Now 27, Robert will be travelling to Abu Dhabi with the golf squad in the hope of making it a double.
“Golf is his great love,” explains Jane Holden, Robert’s mum. “But it is highly unusual for a competitor to be chosen for both the summer and winter games. He is delighted and so excited!”
Showing his determination and skill, Robert from Rawtenstall, recently competed in the Special Olympics National Games in Sheffield where he took gold taking him a step further to competing in the World Games.
Over three demanding days he proved himself to be among the best in his category to the delight of his family and friends.
“When he competed in Sheffield he was amazing. He played over three days on an 18-hole championship course. It was remarkable,” adds Jane. “I couldn’t believe the intensity of the concentration, he was unbelievable. He was so focused. He took everyone by storm!”
Having played golf since the age of eight, the former Burnley College student, now has his sights firmly set on the Special Olympic World Summer Games after it was confirmed he would be part of Team GB.
“We had applied for the World Games and when we found out he was in the squad I cried, I was so proud of him! He was euphoric – he is so looking forward to it.”
The Games will be the world’s largest humanitarian and sporting event of 2019 being held in a huge stadium in Abu Dhabi, one of seven emirates in the United Arab Emirates, and the capital city of the UAE.
An impressive opening ceremony is expected to be held at the start of the games, followed by the various competitions. The games will feature seven days of competition in 24 sports including badminton, basketball, beach volleyball, bocce, handball, table tennis, tennis and volleyball. There will be races in athletics, cycling, kayaking, open water swimming, roller skating, sailing, swimming and triathlon.
Judged competitions will be equestrian, judo, artistic and rhythmic gymnastics. Rounding out the list are bowling, football, powerlifting and, of course golf, in which Robert will compete.
An estimated 7,000 Special Olympics athletes and their 2,600 coaches will arrive early to get used to the time zone and temperature and Abu Dhabi itself will provide 20,000 volunteers. The families of the athletes will number 6,000 and it is expected that media coverage will include 2,000 reporters, photographers, videographers and bloggers, who will all capture the games for the international press.
“The games in Abu Dhabi are expected to attract around half a million people – they are going to be huge!” says Jane, who will be flying out with her partner Henry Shepherd and other family members for the seven-day competition.
“Robert has had to play golf to a really high standard competing at national level to qualify so he has done really well. I think it is a real honour for him to represent Great Britain in not just one, but two sports.”
Supported and mentored by Rossendale Golf Club pros Stephen Nicholls and Scott Goodwin along with Scott Grundy at Golf Rossendale, Robert now works at the Golf Rossendale driving range, starting his day at 7am collecting golf balls and tidying, before spending the afternoon practising.
“They have been totally supportive of Robert. They really look after him, giving him coaching and lessons – he needs key people like that and there are a lot of them who have helped Robert along the way. Support is vital to Robert.”
When Robert discovered he had clinched a place in the GB golf squad there were more than 600 Facebook comments on his achievement: “There are a lot of people out there who love him, and what he is doing,” adds Jane.