A basketball player who readers helped reach the Special Olympics has returned home with a gold medal.
Chris Southwell, 22, of Welland Way, Oakham, fulfilled the dream of a lifetime in July when he flew to Los Angeles as part of Team GB.
Chris, who has autism, was first featured on the pages of the Rutland Times last year, when he asked for help funding his dream to compete in the games.
He soon came to the attention of the Travers Foundation, a charity based in Gretton which helps 13 to 30-year-olds in the area to achieve their sporting and artistic ambitions. The charity agreed to provide £1,250 of matched funding to help Chris get to Los Angeles.
The team played extremely well, winning all three of their group games in their category against China, Latvia and Italy to finish top of the table. They were due to play China in the gold medal game but unfortunately the Chinese team didn’t turn up in time, forfeiting the game and giving Team GB the gold medal for the first time.
Chris was appointed captain during the tournament and played a key part in their victory. He thanked all those who had helped him achieve his dream, adding: “I’m delighted with my gold medal and to have experienced such a memorable Special Olympics.”
Chris and the rest of the team enjoyed a number of treats during their trip, including a trip to the US Ambassador’s residence in London and the UK Ambassador’s residence in Los Angeles. They attended the opening ceremony at the LA Olympic Stadium in the presence of Michelle Obama, where Avril Lavigne performed Fly, a specially-composed song for the occasion.
Terry Forsey, from the Travers Foundation, said: “It feels great to see Chris do so well. He’s one of a very good group. Our athletes must have won about seven medals this year, which is fantastic.
“The fact that he had to take over as captain and did so well is amazing. And to have that run of results afterwards was extraordinary.
“He’s a lovely guy and for someone local to be so successful on an international scale is great.
“This kind of success is what the foundation was set up for.”
Now that the excitement of the Special Olympics is over and Chris has returned to Rutland, he plans to continue playing for his local basketball team The Rutland Conquerors, who have a friendly tournament at Catmose Sports Centre towards the end of October. His next major event is as part of the East Midlands Basketball Team at the Regional Special Games being held in Sheffield in 2017.
Chris’s success story with the rest of the Team GB basketball squad was one of a number from this year’s Special Olympics. There were gold medals in bocce, kayaking and table tennis among many others, taking the final tally to 68 gold medals, 69 silver and 42 bronze.
Chris’s coach Jazz Owens said: “Throughout the competition Chris has maintained a level head and has really controlled the court. His calming disposition has been invaluable, especially during the tougher games where he led the team by example.”