Using Tai Chi to prepare for the world stage

Strong Minds is one of 7 disciplines in the Healthy Athlete Programme offered in Special Olympics Ireland. A relatively new discipline, Strong Minds is already having a huge impact on the lives of so many athletes including basketball player Grace Hamilton who is travelling to Abu Dhabi in March.

We caught up with Grace at the official Team Ireland launch and discussed how she is using Tai Chi to prepare her mind for the biggest game of her life.

From Antrim Town, Grace is a member of Antrim Borough Special Olympics Club and was introduced to Tai Chi at a Special Olympics Workshop,

“It was something that I felt that I could connect with. It reminded me of a programme we did in school called Primary Movements which helped with my dyslexia. It relaxes me right down, I can feel all the stress and negative energy just going out through my fingertips, I can feel it just going down”.

Noticing the benefits and positive effect of Tai Chi, Grace and her mum started practicing the movements each evening at home and it has now become a family event with dad Martin and even her dog Molly getting in on the practice!

Speaking about the new family routine, Grace’s mum Clare, a trained counsellor who also has dyslexia, explained the benefits of Tai Chi

“It is well noted that for anyone with dyslexia, their brain is going all the time so you are constantly thinking and because we are visual thinkers not only do you have your thoughts but you also have the visual action of it all so there is very little space and time for just relaxing”

Cáit Donnelly Clinical Director of Strong Minds, knew she needed to enlist the help of Tai Chi experts in Ireland.

I trained as Clinical Director in 2016 at the New York State Summer Games in Rochester, and it was here that I was introduced to Tai Chi and how it could be used within the Strong Minds discipline. When I saw how the athletes in New York responded to the Tai Chi exercises I knew that this was something I was going to have to bring to our Strong Minds discipline in Ireland

Not long after this Cáit met Sinéad & Charles from Tai Chi your way  and they began working together on ways to integrate and offer Tai Chi to Special Olympics Ireland athletes.  Sinéad & Charles have worked with athletes and coaches of Team Ireland during their residential training weekends to help them prepare for all the stresses competing in the World Games will bring, on and off the sports field.

Leading the team in some simple Tai Chi moves after a long hectic day of training has had a positive effect on the athletes and their overall experience during their training weekends.  Grace was delighted to see Charles in the queue for dinner one evening in particular “I had a bit of a headache and wasn’t feeling great but when Charles came around in the queue I was really happy and I was so glad to do it, I really needed it.”

Charles and Sinéad have spent some time with the Team and find the benefits are evident both in a sporting environment and everyday life

The customised exercises that Grace and the other athletes have learned harmonise body, mind and breathing. They quickly help the athletes to think and feel in a calm, focused way in sports and everyday life. We are delighted that Grace and her family are getting so much out of their Tai Chi practice. It just goes to show how even a few minutes a day can really make a difference.

 As focus now turns from training to travel and competition, the athletes and coaches of Team Ireland are now equipped with the Tai Chi exercises and practices that will help them enjoy the biggest challenge of their sporting careers.

If you would like more information about Strong Minds you can email cait.donnelly@specialolympics.ie

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