Swimming with confidence . . . Athletes Diane Fogarty (left) and Susan Quigley are getting plenty of practise in before the Special Olympics National Summer Games in Hamilton this December. PHOTO: RUBY HEYWARD

Susan Quigley is showing the young ones how to get it done.

Quigley (57) has been a stalwart of the North Otago Special Olympics swimming team for decades.

She joined the team in 1986, but has been swimming since she can remember.

As a young girl, Quigley’s father got her and her sister involved in the Taieri Swimming Club in Mosgiel, where she grew up.

She spent many years competing against able-bodied people before the Special Olympics came along in the mid-’80s. She described this experience as having a foot in two worlds; the world of able-bodied people and those “seen and not heard”.

“I saw how people reacted to [those with disabilities].

“It’s not as bad now as what it was then.”

As the organisation grew in New Zealand, Quigley became fixture in the Otago Special Olympics team before moving to Oamaru in 1993 and joining the North Otago team.

Now a seasoned athlete, she wanted to prove that anybody could do it, at any age.

“I’m flying the flag for us oldies.

“An old girl like me can keep up with the youngest swimmer.”

Because she had been in the game for so long and competed at the 2007 International Special Olympics in China, her younger teammates, some less than half her age, looked up to her.

But the feeling was mutual.

“We keep each other coming back. It’s about the teamwork.”

And Quigley was not giving up the pool any time soon.

“If I didn’t do what I was doing, I would be sitting on the couch.”

North Otago Special Olympics organiser and swim coach Diane Lee said after every competition Quigley would say it was her last one, but she always came back.

“She’s our elder stateswoman.”

Lee said the Special Olympics gave its competitors a real sense of purpose and achievement.

“Sometimes they are treated like they are disposable, or not as important.”

She described instances in the past when the group was not prioritised and was first to be bumped if there were overlapping bookings in training spaces. That was distressing for some of the athletes who relied on stable schedules.

But Oamaru was a really good place to be supported, thanks to the community.

She hoped this support would continue as the team started raising money to go to the quadrennial National Summer Games in Hamilton in December.

The group aimed to raise $22,000 to get its 12 athletes, competing in bocce, ten-pin bowling, and swimming, to the games.

“It’s an amazing event,” Lee said.

If the athletes placed, they could qualify for international competitions.

In its fundraising efforts, the team is selling pine cones and is holding a firewood raffle.

It will also host an Ambrose golf tournament at the Lower Waitaki Golf Club on May 30 at 10.30am and a quiz night at Weston Hall on June 17 at 6.30pm.

Anyone interested in participating in the golf tournament can contact Sue Pennycook at 027 568-4713 or

The swim team is also on the lookout for a coach and would love a professional to give them some tips.