Athletics put Cameron Ross back on track when teenage problems were threatening to knock him off course and next week he will be carrying a flag for West Norfolk as he competes at a major national event for the first time.
Cameron, now 21 and from South Wootton, is among 28 sportsmen and women with learning disabilities chosen to represent Special Olympics Norfolk (SON) at the four-yearly National Games taking place in Sheffield starting on Monday.
They will be part of a Special Olympics Eastern Region squad of almost 200. And Cameron is the only team member from West Norfolk.
His dedication to athletics is largely a result of the support he has received as a member of the West Norfolk Athletic Club (WNAC) and particularly his coach, Paul Edwards, according to Cameron’s father Stuart.
“Cameron was getting quite a big guy and had all the frustrations of a maturing teenager. We often couldn’t get him to bed till half past one or two in the morning,” explained Mr Ross.
“Come along athletics and his coach said, ‘Cameron, I will not train you unless you are in bed and asleep before 11 o’clock’.
“That was a game changer in our family environment. His whole focus now is on athletics. He’s come a huge way and it’s changed all our lives.”
SON is run by volunteers and offers both summer and winter training and competition to around 100 athletes. Unlike Paralympics, which is for elite disabled sportspeople, Special Olympics is for all abilities and ages.
Cameron has competed successfully at many county and regional events. In May he won silver medals in 100 and 200 metres and long jump when Special Olympics athletes took part for the first time in the Athletics Norfolk county championships held at the UEA Sportspark.
He will take part in those same track and field disciplines in Sheffield where he will be cheered on by his dad, his mum Sharon and sister Jennifer along with other friends and supporters of SON athletes.
Nine of Norfolk’s contingent are competing in track and field events, alongside seven footballers, five swimmers, two gymnasts and five boccia players.
“Everyone’s very excited and hopeful we’ll bring back some medals,” said Nicola Fish, chair of SON.
As a result of Cameron’s dedication to his sport, Stuart Ross has become involved in the administrative side of disability athletics. He is a committee member of WNAC specialising in disability support and has a similar role with Athletics Norfolk, assisting Special Olympics’ entry into this year’s county championships.
“It’s now going to be an annual event within the county championships,” he said.
“It’s been hard to get complete inclusion (into mainstream athletics events) because there all sorts of rules and regulations, but Norfolk athletics have led the way for the inclusion of people with disabilities.”
He also praised the support given to disability athletics at club level. “We couldn’t be happier with WNAC. We’ve got learning disabled, physically disabled and visually impaired athletes all up and running in the club.”
To find out more about SON at the national games, visit specialolympicsnorfolk.com