Special Olympics: Ulster kids on top of world
As the World Cup football opening ceremony gets under way in Brazil tonight, a group of local youngsters will be taking part in a special curtain-raiser of their own that they'll never forget.
Limerick is a long way from Sao Paulo but the 241 Northern Ireland athletes preparing to compete in the Special Olympics Ireland Games will feel on top of the world.
They set out by train from Belfast this morning and this evening will take their place amongst over 1,500 competitors ready to launch the event that provides a real sense of purpose and pride for young people taking part.
Special Olympics Ulster provides sporting opportunities for 2,043 athletes with an intellectual disability in 92 clubs across the province.
Over the four days, the 241 bound for Limerick will compete in 14 sports, including athletics, aquatics, badminton, basketball, bocce, bowling, equestrian, football, golf, gymnastics, kayaking, pitch & putt and table tennis.
The competitors will be supported by 3000 volunteers and 500 coaches, with thousands of spectators expected to turn out.
Shaun Cassidy, regional director of Special Olympics Ulster, said: "The Special Olympics Ireland Games will provide a real opportunity for hundreds of local athletes with intellectual disabilities to compete on a national stage. For many of our athletes, this will be their first time competing at this level of competition."
Tonight's opening ceremony begins with a street parade on O'Connell Street followed by an event in the People's Park. Three full days of competition will follow, with a closing ceremony on Sunday.
A Twitter feed has been set up at @SO_Ulster and @SOIreland using the hashtag, #SOGames2014. You can find Special Olympics Ulster on Facebook at Facebook.com/SpecialOlympicsUlster