For golfer Robert Holden, to win gold at the Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi has been a dream come true
Sporting star Robert Holden claimed golfing gold in Abu Dhabi recently to add to his skiing gold back in 2013 – a rare achievement to claim two gold medals in different sporting disciplines at both the summer and winter games.
Robert, 28, was part of an eight-strong team of British golfers to fly out to Abu Dhabi in March to compete in the Special Olympic World Games.
The Team GB squad consisted of 128 athletes competing across 17 sports. The games, which is a huge international event, attracted a total of 7,000 athletes from 170 nations. The seven-day competition saw competitors supported by 2,600 coaches and, 20,000 volunteers and 500,000 spectators.
Before going to Abu Dhabi Robert represented the North West in the national games, as his mum Jane recalls: “He proved then that he was good enough, he rose to the occasion.”
His impressive performance in the nationals gave him access to the Special World Olympics – a tremendous achievement and before flying out to Abu Dhabi Robert and the Team GB golfing squad spent a final training weekend in Sheffield, which also included a schedule of media classes, photography and learning about the culture in the UAE.
“Robert flew out with the team and stayed with the team throughout the games,” explains Jane, who with the rest of her family went to watch Robert.
“At times it was challenging as Robert was staying away from the family and we only had allocated times when we could see him. But he was absolutely brilliant and coped really well. It was a big thing for someone with special needs.”
Robert began golfing when he was eight at Rossendale Golf Club: “It has been his life,” says Jane.
His sporting abilities have taken him all over the world – Robert ran with the Queen’s Commonwealth baton when he was 11 and went on to compete in the European games in Pila, Italy and in the winter games, skiing in South Korea.
But it has been golf that has been Robert’s true sporting love. Working at Rossendale Driving Range and Golf Academy each morning and playing almost every day at Rossendale Golf Club, Robert, has become proficient and skilled at the sport: “I have nothing but praise for Steven Nichols and Scott Goodwin at Rossendale Golf Club,” adds Jane.
“They have been fantastic. The trip to the special Olympics in Abu Dhabi had to be self-funded and a golf day at the club helped raise £9,000 which was amazing.”
In Abu Dhabi, the golfing took place over four days, in difficult conditions, on the world renowned Yas Links course.
“There were high winds which blew the sand up which made vision difficult. It was also by the sea, it was a links course with undulating greens. As a little boy Robert could only concentrate on something for a matter of seconds. So, to concentrate on a competition over four days was a challenge but he came up trumps once again.”
“Robert was awesome! It was still touch and go over the last nine holes – there was a player from Finland who was up there with Robert, but Robert was determined and won by four shots. He said he was doing it for Rossendale Golf Club. He wanted to bring the gold medal home to the Rossendale Valley.”
While the Special World Olympics was very much a sporting triumph for Robert and his fellow competitors, it was also an opportunity for them to meet athletes from all over the world.
“Robert realised that there were some players who were less fortunate than him. They didn’t have access to the same kit and equipment. It was very humbling. It’s been quite a journey for him.”