THEY are often misunderstood or ignored, but for 350 of Australia’s most talented intellectually disabled athletes this weekend they were the toast of the Hunter.
The Special Olympics junior national games were brought to a close last night as the ‘‘Flame of Hope’’ was extinguished in front of 1100 people at Newcastle Basketball Stadium.
Disabled athletes from every state and territory competed in swimming, cricket, athletics, ‘‘gymability’’, tennis, football, basketball and a multi-sport skill competition during the two-day event.
Hunter Valley Special Olympics club member Megan Nay, 10, won the first gold medal of the competition, in a 25-metre backstroke event.
Hunter musicians and dance groups entertained the large crowd during the closing ceremony before a parade of athletes, many with gold, silver and bronze swinging from their neck, took centre stage.
Newcastle Knights, Jets and Hunters players, as well as Wallabies and paralympians, visited the athletes during the competition, taking photographs and providing morale, support and advice.
Games co-ordinator Sally Hill said the weekend was a ‘‘huge success’’ and paid tribute to the 350 volunteers and carers who contributed.