FINALLY, the moment has arrived.
Everything that Laura Butler has worked so hard for will play out over the coming days, halfway around the world.
The 16-year-old Broadford Secondary College student who has autism and an intellectual disability, is travelling with 104 Australian athletes to the Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
They will join 7000 athletes from over 170 countries.
The Special Olympics is different to the Paralympics in that it is solely for people with intellectual disabilities.
It is her first trip overseas.
Laura’s mother, Michelle, confirmed on Thursday that Laura is both both nervous and excited.
“For Laura to qualify is an incredible achievement when you think Laura is competing against open-age women,” she said.
“There were some last-minute issues with uniforms, but it’s all sorted. Laura’s ready to go.”
The team and their family members flew out last Friday. The games commence tomorrow and run for a week (14-21 March).
Laura’s selection for the Australian team is the result of four years’ training with the Special Olympics Australia’s Melbourne West Club.
Michelle said that Laura originally started out in a mainstream athletics club, but struggled to fit in.
“The kids didn’t understand her,” Michelle said. “We found the Special Olympics, where Laura felt more at home.
‘‘There she competes in the highest national division.”
Despite her challenges, Laura has never let anything stand in her way, including the $7,000 needed to get her to the starting line.
“The Special Olympics isn’t government funded,” Michelle said. “The $7,000 included flights and accommodation and is really difficult for me as a single mum to raise.
“But the community of Pyalong has been fantastic. We knew that we had to do whatever it took to get Laura there.
“We had a successful raffle with many generous donations. I also contributed my tax refund of around $2,000. Together, we got her there. But Laura is the one who has done all the work. However she performs, she’s already won.”
To send well wishes via Hero-gram to Laura, visit www.specialolympics.com.au
To find out more about the Special Olympics, visit www.specialolympics.org