Pauline Nugent is Head Coach and Sports Officer with Ormond Special Olympics Club, Nenagh.
During her 20 plus years involvement with Special Olympics, she has coached Special Needs Athletes at Club, Provincial, National and International levels, taking her to places like China, Greece, Poland, Italy and Belgium with Team Ireland, and more recently to Dubai as a Track and Field Official for The World Games.
A previous "CARA National Volunteer Award Winner", and "Good Neighbour Award Winner for Tipperary", she has made numerous visits to Belarus with The Burren Chernobyl Project and for many years was a volunteer with Nenagh Special Summer Camp.
Born in the UK, she and her husband, Paul, moved to Ireland in 1999 and after living in Newtown and Cloneybrien, has recently moved into Nenagh.
What's your idea of a perfect day, or perfect weekend in Tipperary?
My husband, Paul, and I recently took part in a fundraising event for Special Olympics Ireland, called "The 5 Iconic Walks Challenge". Due to Covid restrictions we focused on walks within our own county of Tipperary. It was great to get the walking boots on, the local Ordnance Survey Maps ready, rucksacks loaded with refreshments, and explore again places like Tountinna and The Millennium Cross, Devil's Bit, The Rock of Cashel, The Laghile and Loughan Loop Walk, and The Knockalough Loop Walk.
The weather in August was good and the views of Tipperary were spectacular. We also try to combine our walking time with short breaks in our motor home, visiting places around Lough Derg, The Glen of Aherlow, The Galtees and The Vee. There are so many wonderful locations in Tipperary which we tend to take for granted, but they make for perfect days out.
I really enjoy our Ormond Special Olympics Club training sessions at Templemore Athletics Track during the summer months and indoors at Nenagh College during the Winter. The sessions with athletes, volunteers and parents are great fun and make for a perfect start to any weekend.
Who has made the greatest contribution to Tipperary in your lifetime - and why?
I have lived in Tipperary for the last 21 years, having moved from England, so that is a hard question for me to answer. Without wanting to be over-political, I think that Alan Kelly has done a lot for Tipperary and particularly for my home town of Nenagh and its surrounding areas, as has Michael Lowry over the years.
Since I started living locally, it has been my privilege to be involved with many athletes with special needs within Ormond Special Olympics Club, who through their own determination and dedication have represented Tipperary at Munster level, with some progressing to represent Ireland on the world stage at a number of Special Olympics World Games. They are all proud of their roots, have made a great contribution to sport in Tipperary and have been great ambassadors for their county.
What's your first Tipperary memory?
Back in 1998 we were looking for somewhere to live in Ireland and had house-hunted around Wexford, Waterford, Cork, Kerry, Limerick and then Tipperary. When we arrived in Nenagh, we were unsure of how the Parking Disk system operated. We asked a lady who was in her car nearby and she promptly gave us a Parking Disk and refused to take any money for it.
After such a kind start, we were then fortunate to call into the restaurant which was at that time beside JKC's, where we met the late Nora Butler who was working there as a waitress. She gave us a such a wonderful welcome to the area, was obviously so proud of Nenagh and so helpful to us that we immediately decided Tipperary had to be the home for us!
What's your favourite part of the county - and why?
Again that is a hard question to answer, but definitely Nenagh and its surrounding areas, particularly around the shores of Lough Derg. We loved living in Newtown during our first few years in Tipperary. We were made to feel so welcome by the local people, the two great Bars and The Post Office run by lovely local families, and its Church. It was also in Newtown that I was first introduced to the Ormond Special Olympics Club (which was then still in its infancy) by meeting a young athlete called Lorraine Chadwick (R.I.P.).
We also loved the even more rural feel of Cloneybrien, near Portroe, where we built our home of 18 years, because of the wonderful neighbours and friends we made there, as well as the stunning views over Lough Derg, The Millennium Cross and the beautiful North Tipperary landscape. In the last year or so, we have moved closer to the town of Nenagh. It is great to be nearer to shops, etc. and meet up with so many friends, new and old!
What do you think gives Tipperary its unique identity?
Primarily the welcome its people give to newcomers, as it did to us some 21 years ago. And also its stunning landscape; Tipperary has Mountains to climb, Lakes to sail, swim and fish, bogs and forests to explore, architecture modern and ancient, castles, historical graves and sites - so much that you can have a great "staycation" without ever going outside Tipperary!
Do you have a favourite local writer or author?
A tough choice between 2 local writers. The late Mikey Joy, local historian, who wrote so many interesting stories about Portroe and the Slate Quarries in the book "Portroe - A History of its People and Places." He was also such a gentleman who always had time for people, and was always ready to share his knowledge about the area and its inhabitants over the years. Bridget Delaney, Sports Writer and Photographer.
Her award winning book "The Burgess Story - A GAA History" is a superb detailed account of so many local people who have contributed massively to the development of the GAA in the area. I also really enjoyed all of her reports on the Ireland Rugby performances featured in the local newspapers. Her wonderful descriptions made me feel as if I was actually at the games. Bridget has been a great supporter of Special Olympics athletes and events, locally and nationally, since The Special Olympics World Summer Games were held in Dublin in 2003.
What's the biggest challenge facing the county today?
Definitely living with Covid-19 at the moment. It is the biggest challenge we are ever likely to face in our lives both in Ireland and in Tipperary. From a local Special Olympics point of view, our club has not been able to meet up for training indoors or outdoors since lockdown began in March. I am personally involved with the SO Munster Athletics Development Group and all of our efforts have been focussed upon maintaining contact with our athletes and ensuring their ongoing health and fitness.
We launched a fitness programme called "SO Let's Run" which is a 12 week programme aiming to encourage the athletes throughout Tipperary and Munster to continue to exercise regularly at home, with support from their family if necessary. This has been a huge success for Special Olympics athletes throughout the Province. It has also helped provide ongoing contact for local athletes with our club, as well as an element of support for families. We are currently actively planning a safe return to training outdoors as soon as restrictions permit, which hopefully for us all will be sometime soon.
If you had the power to change one thing in, or about Tipperary, what would it be?
Hardest question of all! The most important thing to me at the moment is aiming to return to some sort of normality in our lives. The present Coronavirus restrictions have made it impossible for Special Olympics to proceed with its much-needed fundraising activities. This has brought into focus the whole question of Sports Funding nationally. As a local Special Olympics club, we rely for our ongoing survival totally upon our own fundraising efforts and local generosity through donations.
With Special Olympics such an important part of my life, I am looking forward to getting back to face to face contact with our Club athletes and once again witnessing their interaction with each other and their commitment to training. The disruption to our athletes has been immense; it is sometimes hard for them to come to terms with the massive changes to their everyday lives which Covid restrictions have demanded; the strain on their families has undoubtedly increased; the stability and order which regular club training sessions help provide is the return to normality which I am looking forward to most.