Two cyclists are pictured during a race, making a huge amount of effort.

Going for gold: Duinkerke on the road to Brisbane 2019

By Giuseppe Napoli | For Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport

Dutch cyclist Joannathan Duinkerke is hoping for redemption at the 2019 International Federation for Athletes with Intellectual Impairments (World Intellectual Impairment Sport) Global Games in Brisbane, Australia, as he aims for an illusive world title.

Going the distance could easily be the motto of every cyclist. For Duinkerke however, the phrase has one special meaning and it goes from Assen, the Netherlands, to Brisbane, passing through Paris, France.

At the last two World Championship, in Assen in 2017 and Paris last year, Duinkerke won two bronze and two silver medals in the team time trial and men’s road race.

These results left him disappointed as he fell short of his expectations. His biggest regret is not stepping onto the podium at home in Assen.

“It’s a competition I will not want to remember,” Duinkerke said.  “I was disappointed with myself and with the whole team. If everything had gone well together, I could have performed better”.

But from 12-19 October the World Intellectual Impairment Sport Global Games – the world’s biggest high performance sports event for athletes with an intellectual impairment – will provide the ideal stage for Duinkerke to try to lay his ghosts to rest.

“It is a great honor to be allowed to participate in such an important event in a far away country, the highest possible in my career. It’s a dream come true,” he said. “My goal is always to be the best, it is what motivates me to train. As an athlete, I am very persistent and I just don’t give up. I know how to manage myself and fight to win.”

The pursuit of excellence has been a constant in the cyclist’s career and now, close to turning 30, he is ready to add another gold to an impressive resume.

The life of a cyclist is constant sacrifice and meticulous discipline in order to excel. Duinkerke is no exception.

“I train six days per week and I have one day off, I follow carefully my schedule. I also have a nutritionist who follows me and sets up a diet. The athlete’s lifestyle fits me well. The structure, the urge to perform. I am happy to be a top athlete in my environment.”

The commitment does however have its downsides as well: “The hardest part is when things do not run as you want. I think that mentally can be heavy sometimes. Sometimes you also face difficult choices and you have to say no to nice things because you need to train.”

The Brisbane 2019 Global Games will be an important showcase, not only for the World Intellectual Impairment Sport cycling community, but for the entire movement for athletes with intellectual impairments.

“Everyone can play sports, regardless of what restriction you have,” Duinkerke concluded.

The 2019 World Intellectual Impairment Sport Global Games are expected to attract around 1,000 athletes from 80 countries. The event, which takes place every four years, will feature 11 sports including the road cycling World Championships for men, women and teams.

Alberto Campbell-Staines: Global Games hometown hero

Gaurav Mokhasi | For Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport

Australian national champion, Alberto Campbell-Staines, has spoken of his excitement to compete at his home International Federation for Athletes with Intellectual Impairment (World Intellectual Impairment Sport) Global Games happening in Brisbane, from 12-19 October 2019.

The 25-year-old is relishing the chance of taking on his competitors in under one year in front of his family and friends. He has big dreams of stepping onto the podium.

“I’m taking it one year at a time”, he said. “My goal is to get into the 400m and 800m final at the Global Games, but it’ll be good to get either a silver or gold medal.”

As well as his national titles, Campbell-Staines is a bronze medallist in the 400m T20 from the 2017 World Intellectual Impairment Sport Athletics Championships in Bangkok, Thailand. He also picked up silverware in the event at two World Para Athletics Grand Prix in 2015, winning gold in Brisbane and silver in Grosseto, Italy.

But recently the rising star prefers the longer distance where he has also achieved good results.

“The 800m is becoming my favourite these days”, he said before his father, Paul Staines proudly added: “Alberto broke into the top 10 in the world for the 800m earlier this year. He’s only been running 800m for two seasons now, and became the Australian champion last year”.

Currently ranked 14th in the world for the 400m and ninth for the 800m, Campbell-Staines has represented Australia at three World Intellectual Impairment Sport Athletics World Championships. Amidst this sea of success, he recalls his first event with fondness, “Getting a medal [bronze] at the 2013 World Intellectual Impairment Sport World Championships in Prague was special. This was my first overseas trip, so that was one of my best achievements.”

Being a world-class athlete certainly has its benefits.

“I got to meet Johan Blake last year at the Queensland International Track Classic, where I train. They had big runners racing against each other before the Commonwealth Games. We had a quick photo together”, Campbell-Staines said, smiling. He also likes the fact that international sporting events allow him to travel all around the world.

Born in Jamaica like his idol, Usain Bolt, Campbell-Staines was left at an orphanage at an early age. It was here at school that he first met the Staines, a migrant Australian couple who were his teachers and later became his parents. His father, Paul, who was both his music and physical education (PE) instructor, said: “It’s quite funny that I taught PE because I’m not actually qualified to teach PE. They just said, ‘Oh, you’re from Australia; you must be good at sports!’ So that’s how I became Alberto’s PE teacher, but he very, very quickly surpassed all my athletic abilities.”

The Staines brought Alberto back to Australia soon after, where he continued to shine at school sporting events.

Paul continued: “By the time he was 10, we realized that there wasn’t much I could offer him by way of coaching, so that’s when we started getting outside coaching for him.”

Annette Rice now trains Campbell-Staines. When asked about the role she plays in shaping his success, he said: “She definitely pushes me to my limits during training. So, when I do the competitions, I find it a lot easier. She is always supporting me and is now doing everything to figure out what my squad and she can do to help me perform to the best of my abilities next year.”

When not in this intense training program, Campbell-Staines has a bunch of other hobbies to keep himself fresh and relaxed. “I play the drums. I like to play basketball and video games, and catch up with my friends as well.” He is also a teacher’s assistant part-time and has recently started coaching a group of 10-12 year olds.

“I’d like to become a full-time coach eventually, and share what I’ve learned from my own experiences and pass it onto kids”, he said.

In the run-up to the 2019 Global Games, Campbell-Staines will also be participating in weekly races during the athletics club season in Brisbane, followed by the State Championships in February and the Australian National Championships in March.

He is excited about welcoming competitors from all over the world to Brisbane next year: “I’m looking forward to showing off Brisbane to the visiting athletes. The biggest place that people go to when they come here is the South Bank, which is like a man-made beach in the heart of Brisbane. So,they should definitely visit that. They can also go to Mount Coot-tha for the lookout and of course, the Gold Coast.”

The Global Games are the world’s biggest high performance sports event for athletes with intellectual impairments. The 2019 edition will feature 12 sports and around 1,000 athletes.

You can follow Campbell-Staines’ journey on YouTube or Facebook.
A female tennis player lines up for a shot

Wren preparing to take on world at home World Intellectual Impairment Sport Global Games

By Mariam Khan and Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport

Australia tennis player Kelly Wren is training hard with her sights firmly fixed on a medal at her home 2019 Global Games in Brisbane in one year’s time.

Wren is in good form this year, having made it onto her fifth career podium at the 2018 World Intellectual Impairment Sport Tennis World Championships in Paris, France.

The Australian left with bronze, and is now focused on the Global Games.

“The courts were good, and I enjoyed seeing the city of Paris,” she said. “I am (practicing) hard to improve my game so I can play my best tennis [in Brisbane].”

Wren is also the defending champion at the Games, having won every edition since 2004.

Of her first victory 14 years ago, Wren reminisced about hearing her national anthem played for her for the first time: “It was very exciting to win my first medal in Bollnäs, Sweden. Australia had a big team, and we had lots of support.”

But the game that Wren has dominated over the years has attracted more and more world class players who have challenged her position at the top.

These include compatriot Carla Lenarduzzi and Great Britain’s Anna McBride who claimed the world title in Paris at the age of just 14.

Talking about the competition she will face at the Global Games, Wren said, “Every opponent challenges me, so I need to make sure I am well prepared.”

The Australian has been playing tennis since childhood: “I started being coached when I was eight years old,” Wren says. Wren then played in her first competition for players with intellectual impairments in 1996.

The Aussie sportswoman enjoys the competitions which have become more frequent. World Championships now take place every year, which according to Wren, helps players judge their game.

The sport has also helped Wren become self-confident and independent: “I have become a positive person and able to be flexible if needed.”

The 2019 edition of the Global Games is expected to attract 1,000 athletes competing in ten sports from 12-19 October.


Miyares: I want to break as many records as possible at Global Games

By Georgia McCutcheon and Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport

The USA’s Andy Miyares – one of his country’s best and most famous athletes – has his eyes set on a new prize in one year’s time.

The 35-year-old is aiming to be one of the first swimmers with Down syndrome to compete at a Global Games in Brisbane, Australia.

In 2017 Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport added a trial category to its competition programme – II2 – for athletes with a more significant impairment. The aim is to provide high performance sports opportunities to more athletes with intellectual impairments.

The II2 group made their debut at the World Intellectual Impairment Sport Swimming Championships in Aguascalientes, Mexico, in November 2017 where Miyares claimed silver in the 200m butterfly.

He did so with the support of Athletes Without Limits, the Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport member organisation in the USA and a passionate advocate for athletes with an intellectual impairment in elite sport.

The Global Games are the world’s biggest high performance sports event for athletes with intellectual impairments. With a successful debut behind him, the American will hope to be selected to travel to Brisbane where the II2 category will be a full medal event in swimming.

With several upcoming competitions, it is peak training season for Miyares. In the pool every day, he strives to be the fastest possible.

With respect to the Global Games, Miyares hopes “to stay in the best shape possible, have all the qualifying times, and be selected to again represent [his] country to the best of [his] ability.” He wants to “break as many records as possible, so the world can see that yes, Downs swimmers have it and do it.”

Miyares has dedicated his life to swimming and holds 34 world and American records to date. It has been an amazing experience for both himself and his family. He has dined with President Clinton in the White House, swam with Michael Phelps at an exhibition event, met with First Lady Michelle Obama, and has even been honoured at the 2017 Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly (ESPY) Awards for his success as an amazing and inspirational athlete.

As an active spokesperson in the international community for people with Down syndrome, Miyares has travelled the globe raising awareness and sharing his catchphrase: Andy is my name. Swimming is my game. And competing is my life.

“Swimming, competing, is really my life. I don’t think I will ever give it up,” he said. “I see Masters swimmers who are so old and still they are competing. So, yes, I will never stop.”

According to his mother, her son’s life “has really been a fairy tale life, surpassing any dream [she] ever had.”

Miyares could once again break new ground in 2019 and add another chapter to his incredible achievements.

The 2019 edition of the Global Games is expected to attract 1,000 athletes competing in ten sports from 12-19 October.


Berger flies high at Val-de-Reuil 2018

Berger aims to fly high at Global Games

By Gaurav Mokhasi | For Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport

Norway’s Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport world record holding pole vaulter Bjorn Oivind Berger aims to fly high once more at the 2019 Global Games in Brisbane, Australia.

In May Berger broke his own Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport world record at the World Intellectual Impairment Sport Indoor Athletics Championships in Val de Reuil, France, setting the bar at 4.75m.

Describing his goals for the 2019 Global Games, Berger revealed he is not only targeting another world record but a medal in another event.

“My goal is to jump higher than I do now. I want to win the pole vault competition, beat my own world record again, and get a medal in high jump or long jump too,” he said.

Berger lives in Finnsnes, a small town in Northern Norway, that is located 500km north of the centre of the Arctic Circle. Winter there lasts for seven months. Nights often stretch past 24 hours, and the cold is biting.

The summer is the other extreme, with the sun shining right through midnight for days on end. The nearest indoor training facilities for athletics are situated 1000km away in Norway or 650km away in Sweden.

IL Pioner Friidrett, the athletics club that Berger has been training at since the last 11 years, lacks the funds needed to build an indoor training facility dedicated to athletics, so Berger trains outdoors from May to October.

In winters, the heavy snow and frigid temperatures mean that he has to train in an indoor football hall. But Berger is grateful. “The people at Pioner support me a lot,” he said. “They help me (Team Berger) find sponsors, both through companies and individuals. They also try to maintain good training facilities as far as possible. We live quite far north, so travelling to competitions both in Norway and abroad is very expensive. The Troms Athletic Association also helps me economically sometimes.”

For a top athlete, Berger keeps his training regimen simple. “I exercise every day. I don’t have any special diet. I eat normal, Norwegian homely fare. I never use protein powder or anything like that. The only supplement I take is cod liver oil in winter.”

Ulrike Naumann, who heads IL Pioner Friidrett, mentions other challenges for Berger.

“Most other athletes in our club are younger than Bjorn,” she said. “Kids leave the region after high school for further education, so there is nobody else at Bjorn’s age left. I think that’s a bit of a pity for him. I wish we could create some more possibilities for him to exercise and compete in other places in Norway, but it is difficult for such a little club to do this; it is too expensive. It is not easy to get the state athletics organisation to financially support disabled sportspeople.”

Naumann ensures that Berger is able to train twice a week with Pioner’s twenty other members. These comprise of athletes aged 4 to 71 and three of Naumann’s own children.

Family affair

Berger’s father, Oivind, plays a major role in his development and coaches the younger athletes at Pioner too. “My father is my coach, and with me at exercises and competitions. He always travels with me,” Berger said. “My mother was also involved in my athletics from the beginning. So, both my parents support me a lot. Neither of them knew anything about pole vault, but they learned it for my sake.”

Berger discovered his love for sports early in life. “I began playing football and did gymnastics when I was eight. Then I started with athletics. Pole vault is my favourite, but I like long jump, high jump and discus too. When I was 15, I got a result of 3.75m in pole vault. That’s when I realised I could be a good pole-vaulter.”

But growing up was not easy for Berger due to his intellectual impairment. “There was some bullying at school, and I struggled a bit at that time,” he said. “But it is okay, I never tried to be something else. When I was 17, I became Norwegian champion for pole vault in my age group, competing against people without any disabilities. I am proud of that.”

‘Life is okay’

Berger has since gone from strength to strength. He first became the Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport world record holder in pole vault at the 2017 World Intellectual Impairment Sport European Championships in Prague, an achievement that he still ranks as the biggest of his career. “I jumped 4.71m. That was awesome,” Berger said.

Amidst all his success, Berger remains grounded. He views sports as just one aspect of his life, albeit an important one. “Playing sports is important for my social life too. It lets me make friends and talk to people. When I’m not playing, I like to relax, listen to music and watch films. I work in a little company nearby my home when I don’t have training or competitions”, he said, before adding with a smile. “Life is okay.”

Inputs and translation provided by Ulrike Naumann.

Hong Kong's Ka Man Wong lines up to hit the ball

Wong has her eyes on the prize on the road to 2019 World Intellectual Impairment Sport Global Games

By Mariam Khan | For Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport

Hong Kong’s Ka Man Wong has her heart and mind set on retaining the women’s table tennis singles Global Games title next year in Brisbane, Australia.

In 2015 in Guayaquil, Ecuador, Wong defeated teammate Mui Wui Ng. Now the London 2012 Paralympic gold medallist is training hard to be at her best once again.

The week-long Global Games, conducted every four years, will be held between 12-19 October 2019. They are the world’s biggest high performance sports event for athletes with intellectual impairments. The Games feature nine sports and over 1,000 athletes from all over the world.

For Wong the Global Games are all about performing well and striving for medals, and that motivates her to succeed. “This is one of the most important competitions after the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games and World Intellectual Impairment Sport 2017 World Table Tennis Championships,” she said.

Clinching a gold at the last edition was the “third important medal” for Wong, after her Paralympic gold and Asian Para Games title from Incheon, South Korea, also in 2014.

Wong started playing table tennis in 2000. The challenging elements of the sport is what she relishes the most.

“I enjoy the moment when I can grasp a win after putting all my efforts in the game,” she adds.

What is next for Wong?

It was her father who discovered her potential and encouraged her to take up the sport. Wong finds a sense of accomplishment in staying dedicated to the sport all these years.

Wong is looking forward to the Global Games as she will get to meet and compete with different players from various countries. “To me, Global Games is not only a platform to compete, but also an opportunity to make friends and widen my own horizons,” she said.

There are many players who can give Wong tough competition. But she believes it all lies in her own play. The Hong Kong athlete also needs to spend more time in training to overcome a long-term knee injury that causes difficulty in training.

“All I have to do is to be concentrated and properly execute tactics suggested by coaches,” she said.

The 2019 Global Games also act as the World Championships for all sports. For table tennis, athletics and swimming they are a key stop on the road to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. For all other athletes it is the highest level they can compete at.

The USA's Jonathan Pierce acknowledges the crowds

Pierce eyes Tokyo 2020 swimming berth

By Georgia McCutcheon and Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport

With two years to go until Tokyo 2020, Jonathan Pierce – one of his country’s most promising athletes – is aiming to be the first male swimmer with an intellectual impairment from the USA to compete at a Paralympic Games.

At his first Para swimming meet in 2016, Pierce swam nine races and broke seven national records. Officials after the meet were in awe – they could not believe that they had never encountered him before. This competitiveness persisted as Pierce continued swimming, and he currently holds 14 regional International Federation for Athletes with Intellectual Impairments (World Intellectual Impairment Sport) Americas records and 21 national.

Over the coming 18 months, Pierce is favored to be selected to attend the 2019 Global Games in Brisbane, Australia – a key stop on the road to Tokyo 2020. He is supported by Athletes Without Limits, the Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport member responsible for the Paralympic pathway for athletes with intellectual impairments in the USA.

At the 2017 World Intellectual Impairment Sport Swimming Championships in Aguascalientes, Mexico, Pierce left with three medals, including a gold and two bronzes. This is despite suffering a stomach bug that took him out of competition for nearly two days. Having spent a morning sick in his hotel room, that evening Pierce insisted he swim in the relay so that the US team could compete.

According to Pierce, his goals are to “get faster and to hopefully qualify for the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.”

Celeste Sychterz, Head Coach of the Athletes Without Limits national team noted: “Johnny is a tremendous competitor. He’s worked incredibly hard to transform physically over the past two years. His performance at the World Intellectual Impairment Sport Swimming Championships, his sportsmanship and his camaraderie with the entire US team is a testament to his success. Johnny is continuing to improve and will make an impact at next year’s Global Games for the US team.”

Already a member of the US Para-Swimming Emerging Team, he is aiming to shed more time and to qualify for the Paralympic B Team. Though there are still standards that he must meet, he is highly motivated to improve his times.

If he qualifies for Tokyo 2020, Pierce would be the first intellectually impaired man to swim in the Paralympics for his country. He would join Leslie Cichocki, who became the first American S14 female swimmer to compete at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

When discussing what Pierce enjoys most about participating in global swimming competitions, he responded: “I like to travel to new countries and compete in swimming. I like to meet new people and make new friends in other countries too.”

Pierce’s natural comfort in the water was evident very young. It lead him to participate in swimming lessons as a child and a competitive swimming programme throughout high school.

In April, competing at home in Indianapolis at the World Para Swimming World Series, Pierce swam against some of the best in the world. He qualified for four finals and moving into ninth place in the world rankings in the 400m freestyle.

Floating baby

Though Pierce’s training schedule is jam-packed, with morning swim practices six days a week and evening gym workouts five days a week, he also benefits from a natural ability in the water.

His father, Tim Pierce, described his son as being really comfortable in water, even at three years of age: “He would float for an hour in the deep end, ears submerged, and laugh when going under.”

Now Pierce will be hoping that what was once a means of sanctuary can deliver the same joy at the highest levels in two years time in Japan.

The logo of the 2018 World Intellectual Impairment Sport Football World Championships featuring the Swedish flag drawn artistically

Jansson wants to prove doubters wrong at home World Intellectual Impairment Sport Football Worlds

Sweden’s Anders Jansson wants to use his home Football World Championships in Karlstad, Sweden, as a platform to prove everyone who doubted him when he was growing up wrong.

Jansson will represent Sweden for the second time at a Worlds between 5-18 August which will be shown live at the Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport YouTube channel.

He has been training four times a week as well as running and cycling and playing regularly with club teams. The national side have been on three training camps in preparation for hosting the biggest competition on the calendar.

“[I want] to show up at home to prove to those who never believed in me and underestimated me when I was a teenager when I felt like an outsider,” Jansson said. “Playing in the national team and doing it at home will be amazing.”

The World Championships will be hosted in stadiums across four towns – Tingvalla IP and Örsholmens IP in Karlstad; Sannavallen in Kristinehamn; Solviksvallen in Arvika and the Sannerudsvallen in Kil.

For Jansson representing his country in Karlstad will be extra special.

“It will be very inspiring to play at home in Karlstad. It is hoped that there will be a lot of people and that in Sweden we will show how we can organise ourselves well.”

Sweden will take on Germany in the opening match at the Tingvalla IP on Sunday (5 August). They will face some very tough opponents, but managed to avoid defending champions Saudi Arabia in the group draw.

Despite the serious business of playing for a world title, Jansson maintains the team’s main aim is to have fun. They are however hoping to reach the semi-finals to improve on their seventh place finish from 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

How it all began

A defensive midfielder, Jansson started playing football when he was aged seven. A love of sports attracted him to the Beautiful Game but he was also inspired by a belief in himself.

“I have the sport [football] and sport to thank in many contexts because I am the one I am today,” he concluded. “Without sport I would not have been who I am.”

The 2018 World Intellectual Impairment Sport Football World Championships will get underway on 5 August with the first group games. The play-offs will then get underway on 14 August before the final on 18 August.

More information, including the results and schedule, is available at the official Championships website.