Matthew flies the flag

Matthew Smith at Livingstone Aquatic Centre with the bronze medal he won in the 2023 Special Olympics World Summer Games.

As he lined up to compete at the 2023 Special Olympics World Summer Games, Te Awamutu’s Matthew Smith had the words of coach Shelley Blair running through his mind.

“Every time you swim, give your all and aim to be the best you can be.”

Her advice, having coached Matthew as part of Special Olympics Te Awamutu swim team since 2010, clearly worked.

Matthew returned from Berlin this month with a medal, and set personal best times in every event he swam in, despite being hampered with a cold.

The Special Olympics World Summer Games draws about 7000 athletes from 190 countries.

Matthew, who has Russell-Silver syndrome, a genetic growth disorder, was one of four New Zealand swimmers selected in the 40-strong Kiwi squad for Germany

The 29-year-old competed in the 25m and 50m back stroke and 4x25m freestyle relay. He won a bronze medal in the relay and was fourth and seventh in his respective backstroke events.

He was also selected as a flag bearer for the New Zealand team at the closing ceremony and named a Special Olympics New Zealand athlete leader.

“The whole family was very proud of him,” mum Shirley told The News as she and Matthew sat poolside at the aquatic centre.

“I’d hoped to come back with any colour medal,” Matthew said.

“I wasn’t nervous, it was lots of fun. I’d absolutely love to go again.”

He already has his eyes on Christchurch’s 2025 Special Olympics National Summer Games.

Matthew learnt to swim at school in Ōtorohanga.

“It took him a while to get used to it,” Shirley said. “Eventually though, you couldn’t get him out of the pool. You still can’t.”

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