Rainbow Warriors Gets Up and Running

Irishtown Stadium Pic: Ross Waldron for NewsFour

Irishtown Stadium
Pic: Ross Waldron for NewsFour

Irishtown Stadium has recently been playing host to a new running club for children on the Autism Spectrum or with special needs – the Rainbow Warriors!

This team of 12 athletes between the ages of 8 and 12 meet at the stadium to train on Monday evenings each week from 5pm.

What makes this team unique is that all its members are on the Autism Spectrum or have special needs. They are there on a trial basis but trainer Colin Donnelly is so pleased with how the trial is going that he is determined to make it a regular fixture.

Donnelly tells NewsFour: “The beauty of running is that it is non-skill specific. It’s not like rugby or gaelic where you have to be good at catching a ball or kicking. You have to get from Point A to Point B as fast as you can, and that’s absolutely perfect for them.

“I teach technique, control and body posture, which is beneficial all ’round. It has a calming effect also.”

There has not been much study on the subject in Ireland, but Donnelly has carried out his own online research, sourcing American material which confirmed what he already knew of the benefits of physical exercise for those on the Autism Spectrum.

“There are two key benefits for them. It develops focus and provides social interaction, which is very important,” confirms Donnelly.

Donnelly’s previous career as an accountant is in stark contrast with what he is doing now, though fitness was always a big part of his life: “I was a marathon runner. When the recession hit, I found myself back in college and became qualified as a personal trainer.”

Donnelly grew up with an autistic brother, which gave him insight into working with children with special needs. This is essential to the success of the group and Donnelly differentiates between Rainbow Warriors and some Special Olympics teams or other mainstream athletic groups who encourage special needs children to join them.

“The emphasis is on winning and the Special Olympics participants are very driven which though it is not a bad thing, the most important thing to us is taking part. That is what makes them want to come back week after week. You need to let them be themselves. Accept them for who they are.

“I am also involved in a sports group for autistic children called Open Spectrum and this competition is the first ASD athletics in the country. These kids have never gotten a chance to really run before and they are so thrilled to do it in a proper facility. A large part of the problem is that they are not getting the exercise other kids get.”

Victoria White of Dodder Action has a son who is on the team, and she was instrumental in engaging Donnelly to work with the group. Donnelly says, “Victoria has been great. She volunteers and has made up a rota for parents, as we need two onsite at all times. Irishtown Stadium has also been brilliant: as well as giving the kids a feel for the track they let us use their equipment.

“I’d love us to have our own equipment though and it would be great for them to have their own tracksuits. If there are any local businesses who would like to sponsor the club that would be great.”

The club is set for continued growth with plans for a junior team of 5-8 year olds and possibly a second senior team. The children are not the only ones who benefit for the class as Donnelly admits, “I come home from class every week on a high.”

For more information about joining or sponsoring the club, email Colin at ufit12@gmail.com.

By Maria Shields O’Kelly

1 Comment