“If you want to know the difference between ‘volunteering’ and ‘giving your time to others’, then just spend an hour with Claire Behan. A Campaign Executive at Canon UK and Ireland, Claire spends several weeks a year travelling the world with the Special Olympics as their official photographer, using her volunteer days and annual leave to document and raise awareness of this extraordinary organisation and its events.”
Special Olympics might just be the biggest global sporting body you’ve never heard of. Founded over fifty years ago in Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s backyard, it is now the largest sports organisation for adults and children with physical and intellectual disabilities. The numbers speak for themselves – Special Olympics provides training to over three million athletes in 200 countries, as well as holding international competitions. Next year’s Special Olympics World Games in Berlin anticipates hosting over 7000 athletes, who will be competing across 24 different sports. It is, without exaggeration, a huge and important movement that is starting to reach a wider audience through the work of people like Claire who give their time to champion the organisation. For those people Special Olympics is more than a movement – it’s a family.
No stranger to volunteering, by the time Claire joined the crew of the Special Olympics, her BA in Photography had given her plenty of opportunities to join various projects in her native Ireland, documenting events and campaigns. However, a chance encounter at a networking event in 2018 changed her life. “I met Fiona Hynes, who works for Special Olympics,” she explains. “She is the Communications Director across all of Europe and Eurasia and has a small team in Ireland. We got chatting and I gave her my phone number.” Anyone who has been to a networking event will be surprised by what happened next. “She called me!” laughs Claire. “And said, ‘Hi, do you want to come to Azerbaijan with me?’”. It was quite out of the blue, but she knew of the work of Special Olympics and simply couldn’t say no. The impact of this first trip was profound and Claire was hooked on the buzz of the events, the warmth and passion of everyone involved and a joyful atmosphere that is almost indescribable. Almost.