“It’s been a really big part of my life. I don’t think I would have done so much without them.”
Speaking to Niall Guite, even just over a casual and quick call, it was clear to see the passion and joy the Sheffield born athlete has for competing in the sports he loves. Guite has had to cope with autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia his whole life, but always manages to retain a smile no matter what.
One major sport that he loves is basketball – playing the sport since the age of 11. This led to him competing at the Special OIympics back in the summer of 2009, an occasion that was initially ‘scary’ but ‘exciting’ all the same. He said: “I first competed in the National Summer Games in Leicester 2009. I was very proud to be representing my region. It was scary and exciting in equal measure but I absolutely loved it and it made me want to do more.”
The Special Olympics
The Special Olympics enables those with intellectual disabilities to explore sports they might not take up otherwise, with over three million Special Olympics athletes now currently out there experiencing sport through constant activities and training.
Representing Great Britain at a number of the actual games now – even winning a gold medal in his beloved sport of basketball in 2015 out in Los Angeles – the Sheffield athlete is thankful for the platform the Special Olympics has given him and how it’s enabled him to break out of his comfort zone.
He said: “It’s a really big part of my life. I don’t think I would have done so much in my life without them. There are approximately 1.5 million people with an intellectual disability in the UK and the Special Olympics are an organisation that is dedicated to providing sporting opportunities to anyone with an intellectual disability that participates in them.
“There is no-one else like them in the UK. They have been supporting me for so long and I know they do so much for all their athletes.”
Guite’s love for sports isn’t just seen through his fantastic efforts at the Special Olympics, however. The Sheffield-born athlete is a huge football fan too, supporting his beloved Sheffield Wednesday week-in week-out. He was even present at the Owls’ recent Wembley victory over Barnsley, and understandably ecstatic watching Wednesday clinch promotion back up to the Championship after a last-gasp win.
Artist and sportsman
Guite’s football obsession kick-started significant fundraising efforts for the Special Olympics during lockdown, many athletes who benefit from what the Special Olympics offer embarking on the ‘2.6 Challenge’ – an initiative put together to help raise money for charities feeling the after-effects of the pandemic.
The Owls super-fan went about drawing 26 football stadiums at the start, before his artistic efforts began generating the publicity and traction which has now seen him becoming known for his interpretations of football stadiums far and wide. Guite’s Twitter feed is full of unique artistic efforts depicting football grounds all over the world, even venturing as far out as drawing the likes of Fortuna Dusseldorf’s stadium, amongst others.
At this point in time, his collection of stadium drawings has raised just shy of £6,000 to go towards Special Olympics GB. These incredible drawings even saw Grayson Perry reach out, the eclectic artist turned presenter taking such a keen interest in the stadium drawings that he even housed a drawing Guite did of Forest Green’s ground in an art exhibition.
Of course, as well as attracting positive feedback from the art world, his artistic talents also saw the football world respond with obvious admiration. Manchester City sent the new-found artist a signed jersey, the response overwhelmingly positive for an art effort that was born out of trying to help the Special Olympics who had enabled him to feel confident in his own skin.
Overcoming the hurdles
As Guite has pointed out, there are approximately 1.5 million people in the UK alone living with an intellectual disability. Therefore, fundraising efforts to keep the Special Olympics thriving and continuing to help those with conditions such as autism to enjoy sport are integral.
This month, the Sheffield athlete will venture back out to compete at the Special Olympics but will attempt a brand-new sport. He’s always trying to do something a little more daring and challenging when it comes to participating, in spite of the hurdles his conditions can present.
He said: “I took up cycling to challenge myself. When I started, I spent a lot of time falling off my bike. I had to learn to balance, use my brakes, change gear and increase my fitness. I have loved it and made a whole new set of friends and love training even though it’s hard.”
Guite and many other Special Olympics athletes will launch themselves into competition in Germany this month with the Special Olympics taking place from 17-25 June. Thankfully, on this occasion the athletes haven’t needed to raise their own funds, as Special Olympics GB managed to secure funding from Jungle Jam, the world’s biggest charity fundraising event.
Raising money as well as the profile
Guite’s mother Michelle has put together a GoFundMe page in addition to his own homepage to help collect some costs to aid the Special Olympics athletes’ trips out to Berlin. He is hopeful that the upcoming event can see him compete for another gold medal attempting another sport.
Regardless of whether or not he does come away with that to add to his personal accolades, the Sheffield-born sports star has managed to find an outlet in the Special Olympics.
This exceeds just taking part in basketball or cycling, his drawings of football stadiums have touched various different figures from many walks of life and helped generate funds for the sports organisation that has contributed to him being the positive, confident person he is today irrespective of his autism, dyslexia or dyspraxia. Guite’s undeniable exuberance and enthusiasm and success will serve as an inspiration to many.