TWO Limerickmen are packing their bags to attend what will be the largest sports and humanitarian event anywhere in the world in 2015 – the Special Olympics Games in LA.
Friends and colleagues Tony Cusack and Phil O’Rahilly who both work with Eircom will take the trip across the Atlantic as part of Special Olympics Ireland 30th anniversary of their partnership with Eircom – the longest running corporate social responsibility initiative in Ireland.
“It will be fantastic. My experience of the Games in the past is that it is very much athlete-centred. It is sport in its truest form. It’s the participating that counts,” said Tony Cusack, who is originally from Janesboro and now lives in Corbally.
Both Tony and Phil are making the trip to Southern California as volunteers and Eircom representatives.
“There are six of us going out from Eircom to mark the 30 years association with the Special Olympics,” Tony explained.
“When the 2010 Games came to Limerick I worked on the national games for about six months and then last year I worked on the Games for a few months. Over the years I have represented Eircom at various Special Olympics launches and I would have helped out in the past in terms of national collection days and putting up posters,” he added.
Tony, who has been working for 35 years with Eircom, is based at the Roches Street exchange in Limerick city.
Each volunteer undertook their own fundraising programmes ahead of the trip and underwent their training in the Red Cow Hotel, Dublin two weeks ago.
“We are going to be working on spectator services – it’s like a meet and greet. We will be based in the convention centre in LA. We will be letting people know where various events are going to be on and provide them with the right information,” Tony explained.
While Tony has been to the East Coast before, this will be his first time to LA.
“It is exciting and I’m looking forward to it,” he smiled. “I’m hoping that we will get a little bit of downtime to get to see some of it but I know that it will be fairly hectic when we get there. Eircom are hosting a night there and we have five shifts we have to work – some of those shifts start at 6.30am so we will be up bright and early. We also have an orientation day as well.”
One of highlights of the Games will be the opening ceremony in the Los Angeles Coliseum where the ’84 Olympics were staged.
“We are going to that as well,” said Tony. “Stevie Wonder is playing at it and Michelle Obama is the co-chair of the World Summer Games along with her husband President Obama so we expect Michelle Obama will be there. Robbie Keane is the ambassador for the Irish team and himself and his wife Claudine have been very good from what I hear from the Special Olympics organisation – they are based in LA.”
A total of 88 athletes from across the 32 counties are competing in various events including one Limerick athlete, Ashleigh O’Hagan from St Patrick’s Road, a gymnast with the Lisnagry Special Olympics Club.
“Ashleigh will be competing in rhythmic gymnastics. She is the one and only athlete from Limerick,” explained Phil O’Rahilly who will be Tony’s roommate for the 10 days he is in LA.
Phil, who lives on Fr Russell Road, Dooradoyle, has been working with Eircom for 10 years – he works in the government accounts section. “It’s going to be a fantastic event. There are six volunteers going out from Eircom. Also our managing director of Eircom wholesale is going out,” said Phil.
“I got involved in the Great Limerick Run about two years ago and then I met with Matt English, who is the CEO for Special Olympics Ireland. Matt is a very inspirational guy. Because this is Eircom’s 30th year sponsoring the Special Olympics – this is a big celebration internally in Eircom and there has been a huge amount of activity in the last 12 months. It is the longest corporate sponsorship in the country,” Phil explained.
When they decided that they were going to send a number of representatives over the LA to represent Eircom, a call was sent out for staff to put pen to paper to explain why they would be a suitable candidate to represent the company.
“Some of my core points was that I am a very proud Limerickman and we have seen the Games come to Limerick twice in the last 10 years,” Phil explained.
“We have been involved in a number of fundraising events including The Great Limerick Run, a race night, a cake baking competition judged by John ‘The Bull’ Hayes and A Stars in their Eyes night. Overall, for this particular event, Eircom raised over €130,000 and that was given to Special Olympics Ireland this year as part of the 30-year anniversary,” said Phil.
Like Tony, Phil has never been to LA.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity really to go over there,” he said.
Along with the 88 athletes competing from Ireland, there will be 160 volunteers travelling - a number of which are from Limerick including former Mayor of Limerick, Maria Byrne.
With 6,500 athletes and 2,000 coaches representing 165 countries, along with 30,000 volunteers and an anticipated 500,000 spectators, the 2015 Special Olympics World Games – being staged in Los Angeles from July 25 to August 2 – will be the largest sports and humanitarian event anywhere in the world in 2015, and the single biggest event in Los Angeles since the 1984 Olympic Games. It will feature 25 Olympic-style sports in venues throughout the LA region.