Athlete keen to swim for supporters at world games

Special Olympics North Otago swimmer Liam Bartley, of Maheno, is off to the United Arab Emirates...
Special Olympics North Otago swimmer Liam Bartley, of Maheno, is off to the United Arab Emirates to represent New Zealand at the Special Olympics World Summer Games 2019. PHOTO: HAMISH MACLEAN
The only South Island swimmer heading to the Special Olympics World Summer Games in the United Arab Emirates next month will be swimming "for everyone'' who helped him.

Liam Bartley (21), of Maheno, will compete in the 50m butterfly, the 100m freestyle and will take the 50m butterfly leg of the relay, when he gets in the pool for New Zealand in Dubai.

Mr Bartley, who has autism, wanted a personal best - 1min 16sec or 1min 17sec - in the 100m freestyle, but he also admitted to looking forward to returning home and being able to live a little more "dangerously'' again.

"When I get home, that means I'm finally out of the Glad Wrap, and it means I can do whatever I want,'' he said.

"It means I can go and have fun again.''

Mr Bartley's mother and co-coach Sharon Bartley explained that four weeks before qualifying for the world games, winning a gold, silver and bronze medal at the Special Olympics New Zealand National Summer Games in 2017, Mr Bartley dislocated his knee - "so it was touch and go whether he was even going to get there''.

He was putting in the hard yards, spending five days a week in the pool, and training at the gym three times a week.

"I'm very proud of Liam, very proud,'' she said.

"He's put in a lot of hard work.

"Liam's dad passed away in April last year, he was a big supporter of Special Olympics - he didn't get to find out that Liam had made the team. He [Liam]) found out a month later. It's a big incentive for Liam - he's going to go up there and swim for his dad.''

After Russell Bartley died of cancer, the community had "taken over and really supported us''.

Six family members would make the trip to Abu Dhabi for the Games' opening ceremony, then travel on to Dubai to support Liam Bartley as he competed.

Special Olympics North Otago spokeswoman Sue Pennycook said after nominating Mr Bartley for the team, the local organisation raised $12,500 to fund his trip, which included a $2000 donation from the Alps 2 Ocean Ultra Trust.

Mrs Pennycook, a former coach, said Mr Bartley was very well prepared for the March 14-21 world summer games.

"I've been involved with this for 20 years. Liam would be one of the most dedicated athletes I've ever been involved with.''

Otago's Special Olympics footballer Thomas Cowie and Special Olympics powerlifting coach Amanda Young were the other southern representatives.

Special Olympics New Zealand is sending a team of 43 athletes and unified partners (athletes without intellectual disabilities) to Abu Dhabi.


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