Power to the Volunteer- Motley Magazine, December 2009

Aisling Twomey interviews Danielle Boyle, a PR with Special Olympics Ireland

Special Olympics has a special place in Ireland’s heart, and most definitely is close to students’ hearts also. Every year hundreds of people donate and volunteer with the organisation- and it never fails to be a rewarding experience. I spoke to Danielle Boyle, the PR of a Cork club, and asked her all about why she got involved.

How did you get involved with Special Olympics Ireland?
I got involved in Special OlympIcs back in September 2006 when I was 15 years old. One of my teachers in school talked to us about Special Olympics Ireland. It immediately caught my attention and I took the application form- and the rest, as they say, is history.

What made you decide to help?
I Suppose a lot of people can relate back to Summer 2003 when the Special Olympics Worlds International Games were held here in Ireland. Everyone can remember those live emotional scenes from Croke Park. It was all about supporting difference in a positive light all over the world and that really made me want to get involved when I was in Transition Year.

What’s the best thing about working with the athletes and in the wider organisation?
For me starting out volunteering with the athletes I learned NOT to be judgmental and I’m afraid to say it’s something we all suffer from but through my experience at Special Olympics that aspect of me has started to decrease on a serious level. Another great aspect of our organisation is showing everyone what people with Special Needs can do and achieve in all areas of society and showing that no physical or intellectual barrier can restrain the power of the human spirit.

Do you think that it’s changed your view of the world and the people in it?
One hundred percent!! It has changed my view of how we can automatically judge people without knowing them. It has shown me that all people deserve a chance to express themselves in whatever area of life that they can. It’s so important to stand up and certainly be counted.

Has being involved with SOl taught you new things that you wouldn’t learn anywhere else?
It has taught me so much- especially about perseverance. These athletes persevere so much and in everything they do and-if! weren’t involved in Olympics I don’t know where else I would have learned to persevere myself in the areas that I want to be successful at.

Are there any particular people you’ve met who have influenced you to keep working and volunteering?
I suppose a lot of the people that I’ve met that have kept me going is the athletes themselves. They’re little LEGENDS! They’re full of so much positivity and they’re willing to learn so much about the sports that they a;e involved in; it’s just such a pleasure and I am blessed to work with such a great bunch of people.

What’s next for your club?
Our club is full of such talented athletes and I’ve no doubt you’ll be hearing their names in the next few years. Two of our athletes have made Munster Representation and will be taking place in the Special Olympics National Games in Limerick in summer 2010. If they progress from the national stage they may be flying the flag for Ireland in Greece where the World International Games will be held in Summer 2011

Ghosts of Columbine- Motley Magazine, November 2009

It’s a scary thing that every year, somewhere in the world, students die in their own schools or colleges, set upon by members of their own classes. There is a disconcerting lack of knowledge about it, which is amazing considering there are more than 17000 students roaming this particular
campus – potential lives lost because we don’t fully appreciate the danger.

On Tuesday, April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold set bombs to blow their school- and hundreds of students- to pieces, hoping to shoot the straggling survivors as they stumbled from the wreckage. Though the bombs didn’t work, the sawn off shotguns and rifles did. Harris and Klebold murdered 13 people- 12 students and a teacher- before taking their own lives in the library of their school. In the midst of it all Patti Nielson called 911 and asked for help. Help didn’t come on time; Patti left the phone on the floor for 27 minutes while she hid. The call recorded the deaths of three students, with dozens of injuries and yells both of pain and glee- also heard in abundance. Eric and Dylan were just 18 and 17- vounger than you and I, most likely. The result is that Columbine is now a word we use, not to define an area, but to define a massacre.

This is not the only example of a disgusting trend for violence that gets worse year on year. In 2007, again the horror was replayed. Seung- Hui Cho murdered 32 people in Virginia Tech. It was a devastating number – the most killed by a single gunman in peacetime. Cho was 23 years old. The legacy he left behind included a manifesto of rage and terrifying spite. He walked into the engineering building, chained the doors shut, and set about his pre planned destruction. Professor Liviu Librescu held a classroom door closed, alIowing all but one of his students time to escape through a window. Librescu survived the Holocaust, but bullets put an end to him on this day.

Cho fired and fired and fired – and eventually he fired into his own head and ended his spree. Anyone with an interest in this area can tell you that there is simply no way to validly identify someone as a school shooter. There are no FBI profile for one. Their reasons are different and unique to each individual. Dylan Klebold wrote obsessively about love. in his diary; Eric Harris detailed his plans to kill all of humanity. Cho Seung Hui was mentally unwell and had deteriorated severely by the day of his death. My point here is that it could be anyone, at any time- for any reason. People like to think that these things only happen in America; that’s a myth. – Pekka-Eric Auvinen killed 8 people and wounded 12, at Jokela High School in Finland, in November 2007. When his principal pleaded with him to stop, he shot her seven times. When the nurse tried to help injured students, the 18 year old killed her too. He tried to set fire to the school, but failed. Auvinen shot himself in the boy’s bathroom and died. He was academically strong in history, liked philosophy, and was an occasional mark for bullies.

That’s a big myth about the school shooter- that they are all bullied souls seeking release. It’s one of those assumptions that’s just plain wrong. Eric Harris was popular and well liked. Dylan Klebold, while quiet, was never bullied. Cho Seung Hui was ill, and that’s it.

Not even a year after the Jokela shooting, Finland saw another. Matti Saari, a student at Seinajoki University of Applied Sciences, calmly walked into a business studies exam and individually approached students before firing on them. He shot one person twenty times. He set fire to the room, and left. His reason was very simple -Saari said it himself; he hated the world. A former classmate said that he was “happy, social guy, he wasn’t lonely. He had friends”. He killed one of those friends, the only male student he targeted. –

The sad thing about all of this is that even with no tolerance. policies and new laws enacted, school shootings are still happening. In fact, their numbers have increased if anything. Leaving aside terrorism, war, religion and gang efforts, there have been II shootings so far in 2009. There were 7 in 2008 and 9 in 2007. It had been said, in the aftermath of Columbine, that 1999 would be the worst year ever; in that year there were 5. Bear in mind that the figures I counted don’t include personal grievances or fights – and they don’t include knife crime and stabbings, which are becoming frighteningly more common in the last two years. And not all of the ones I counted were in the United States. There were incidents in Canada, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Greece and Azerbaijan.

No state, no school, can be classified as immune. When Michael Moore asked Marilyn Manson what he would say to the Columbine shooters, he replied, “I would have listened”. He had a very valid point. It is very easy to read about these events and to shudder at them. It’s easy to cast the killers off as maniacs. It is simple to change gun control laws. It’s pretty easy to forget. It is not so easy to Google the names of two teenage boys from Colorado, and to see a police image of them sprawled on a library floor, heads blown to bits – literally. In the pursuit of this article, I read some nasty things, saw some horrific pictures, and listened, disgusted, to recordings that beat any horror film. Patti Nielson didn’t know what that day in April 1999 was going to be like for her. At one point, she broke down, and whispered down the phone to the 911 dispatcher. What she said is pretty much the only thing that can be said about all of this. “Oh God, I’m really frightened.”