FIVE Port Macquarie locals will represent Australia next week at the inaugural Special Olympics Asia-Pacific Games to be hosted at Hunter Stadium in Newcastle.
Tenpin bowlers Adam Smith, Glen Ball and Ryan Mueller will join cricket team manager Ken Brown and athletics head coach and former Paralympian, Rod Nugent, in a bid to bring gold home to the Hastings.
The team was presented with the official green and gold uniforms by mayor Peter Besseling on the weekend and their excitement at being a part of an international sporting event that celebrates their athletic ability was palpable.
Adam, 33, Glen, 42, and Ryan, 23, will be among 2000 athletes from 32 countries across the Asia-Pacific to converge on Newcastle for the event which kicks off after the opening ceremony on December 1.
The 400-strong Australian squad is the largest contingent of all teams competing and will be based at Cyprus Lakes for the duration of competition.
Brown, who has been appointed Australia's cricket team manager, expressed his appreciation and excitement ahead of the Games.
"A lot of these kids had no chances in their sports growing up so it gives me great pleasure to see them succeed," he said.
Brown is a retired teacher and founder of Special Olympics Mid North Coast, a group that allowed his own son Chris to compete at a national level in basketball and eventually meet the love of his life through the sport.
Founded five years ago, Special Olympics Mid North Coast has been the perfect training ground for future champions with several locals already succeeding at a national level in basketball, tenpin bowling and athletics.
"This is a way for us to help make all their dreams come true," Brown said. "I really don't think these guys actually realise just how big a deal being selected for the Games is."
For Brown, their achievements make the hard work, training and commitment worthwhile.
"There is a saying 'let me win. If I can't win, let me be brave in the attempt' these guys epitomise what that is all about. They try their guts out," he said. "We've had a lot of community support and in particular from Glen Ball's former home town in Victoria.
"While Glen now lives in Port Macquarie his family and friends back in Victoria held a fundraiser and raised $1200 which they split up between the three bowlers which is fantastic and makes a huge difference for these guys."
Ex-Paralympian turned head coach of the athletics team, Rod Nugent, couldn't hide his pride in the green and gold after 13 long years.
"My background is the Paralympics so these guys mean the world to me," he said. "It’s been 13 years since I've worn the green and gold and to wear it again is just great."
Nugent says the games will be a once in a lifetime experience for these athletes, given they will be in front of their home crowd.
"What it will do is give lifelong memories to these guys, especially in their own country. The crowd support will be unreal."
As for our region's ambassadors, winning will come a close second to the privilege of representing their country.
Ryan is looking forward to the opening ceremony while Len is keen to show the competition what the Aussies have got.
Glen summed it up best: "Wearing the green and gold is better than anything."
The first day of competition will be Monday, December 2 and will conclude with the closing ceremony on Saturday, December 7.