Eight Hills athletes are excited to compete at the Nationals in April

Swimming – Corey Atkinson, Lauren Heggie and Kayla Van Zeeland
Basketball –  Mitchell Duncan
Football – Philip Nicolson
Gymnastics – Nicholas Zrnic
Tennis – Shawn and Shannon Walford.

Several of the athletes admit to being “a bit nervous” because there will be 1100 athletes competing across 11 sports and the standard is expected to be extremely high.

Atkinson, 23, said: “I won four gold medals in New Zealand in November 2016 but it’s a better standard of competition than the trans-Tasman.”  As are the other athletes, Atkinson is working hard. He is competing in three events at the games and is training three nights a week.

Heggie, 23, has a similar routine, except she backs up her Monday night sessions at Oakhill College, Castle Hill, with two mornings at Sydney Olympic Park. She also won gold at the trans-Tasman Games — by a finger-touch in the 100m breaststroke. She competed at the last Special Olympics Nationals to be held in Adelaide in 2009.
Fellow swimmer Van Zeeland, 25, said making friends was the best part of participating in Special Olympics — although she admitted training hard for the Nationals was good for her too. Van Zeeland will compete in four events, including the 4 x50m freestyle relay.

It will be the second time local soccer player Nicolson, 26, has represented NSW, having been to the Nationals in Melbourne in 2014.  His father Greg said his son was “gearing up for a big effort again”, playing futsal and cricket this summer to maintain his fitness.

Other veterans of the Melbourne games are seasoned performers Zrnic, 25, and Duncan, 23.  Zrnic also competed in the World Down’s Syndrome Games in Florence in 2016 while Duncan’s basketball team won bronze in Melbourne. “We have a good team — it just depends on the day,” Duncan said.

Shawn Walford, 45, and his brother Shannon, 47, will compete in singles and doubles.