”It is about team spirit, fair play, responsibility and performance. But fourth place is also worth celebrating.”

Photo Uwe Rüdel

Uwe Rüdel, athlete in the Special Olympics Germany

This man is as fit as a fiddle. There is hardly a sport that he’s not involved in, hardly a challenge he doesn’t rise to. Uwe Rüdel swims and plays soccer and table tennis. The 49-year-old is a member of a horse riding club. He loves triathlons.

He is passionate about cycling. “I’m good at that,” he says, and then laughing, “very good in fact.” He has been living at Bruderhaus Diakonie, an assisted living facility for disabled people in Fluorn-Winzeln, Rottweil for over twenty years. Rüdel has, in his own words, been “disabled” since birth. Intellectually disabled. He can write his full name, but “I can’t read.” That doesn’t matter for his hobbies, where other skills are needed. Rüdel takes part in sporting activities in the evening twice a week, after completing his caretaker work at Bruderhaus. He usually trains with ambition and often with stamina – but always with Ellen Maier. The gymnastics and sports teacher has been working with her protégé for over twenty years and has prepared him for several Special Olympic Games.

Ellen Maier

Ellen Maier, Uwe Rüdel´s trainer

Ellen Maier and Uwe Rüdel attended the National Games in Karlsruhe. It’s a challenge. All Special Olympics competitions reflect the values and standards of the Olympic movement. Qualifying takes place at the regional, national and international level. Only those who pass these preliminary rounds are allowed to partake in the games. The next Special Olympics World Summer Games will take place in Athens in 2011.

For Uwe Rüdel, sport is more than just exercise, muscles, stamina and strength training, more than merely improving his fi ne motor skills. Sport is “an essential motivational aspect of daily life,” as sports teacher Ellen Maier knows. Sport is great for relationships and releasing aggression. And it motivates people to perform too. Rüdel is ambitious. He loves standing on the winners’ podium. He treasures his gold, silver and bronze medals like precious trophies. But he also says: “Sport is about team spirit, fair play, responsibility and performance. But fourth place is also worth celebrating.”

Getting together with others from the community is an important aspect of the Special Olympics. Rüdel remembers numerous competitions, at sports centers and cities in foreign countries; he remembers encounters with various famous personalities. For example, he met Arnold Schwarzenegger, the movie star and governor of California, in Munich. It was Schwarzenegger’s mother-in-law, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who launched the Special Olympics in 1968. He has met luger Georg Hackl, and even managed to get his autograph. He enjoyed a relaxed chat with the former ruling mayor of Berlin at the opening of the 2006 National games held in the capital city. Rüdel vividly remembers meeting the triple gold medal swimmer of the ‘80s, Michael Groß, as well as a great many other Special Olympics athletes and their supervisors.

Uwe Rüdel and Carmen Würth

Carmen Würth, Vice President of the Executive Board of Special Olympics Deutschland with Uwe Rüdel

He has become more outgoing through sport, as his trainer Ellen Maier can confi rm. “Let me win, but if I can’t win, allow me to bravely do my best,” that’s the oath of sportsmen and women as they make their way to the starting line at the Special Olympics. For Uwe Rüdel, this oath has become his motto for life. The only thing he has lost is his timidity in front of people. But he has won his confidence.