We were privileged to have a visit from alumna Ellen Maher (Life Skills class of 2017), an accomplished gymnast who represented Australia at this year’s Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi winning five medals. Our Year 8, 9 and Life Skills girls were enthralled listening to Ellen describe her experiences and favourite memories of the Games.

Ellen’s story ..

Ellen started gymnastics when she was five and loved it straight away! Since then, she has trained hard and competed in numerous events and has ‘done well’, she said. But the wins are not what has kept her going, it is her pure love of gymnastics. Fourteen years on from that first class learning to stretch, roll and jump, all the hard work and training earned Ellen a place on Team Australia for the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi.

Training and goals

Ellen explained that leading up to the Games, she trained hard at the YMCA with her gymnastics coach and her local gym to increase her fitness. She also spoke to our students about the importance of setting goals, explaining that she set personal goals and worked on achieving those, as well as her athletic targets.

Ellen Maher Special Olympics Goals

We all have the ability to learn new skills and accomplish our goals. People with an intellectual disability just learn differently, or need more time or support to succeed. 

Ellen said the support from family and friends “makes the training and hard work a little bit easier”. Ellen said she was thrilled to receive Herograms, especially from the girls at Danebank, they encouraged and really helped her stay motivated, adding “I love being a part of the Danebank community!”

Being a part of a Team Australia

On March 7 this year, Ellen joined the rest of Team Australia made up of 105 athletes and 35 volunteer officials who competed in 11 sports: athletics, basketball, bocce, bowling, equestrian, football, golf, gymnastics, sailing, swimming and tennis.

Being a part of Team Australia has given Ellen the opportunity to travel and be empowered by her incredible achievements. In an interview with Special Olympics Australia, Ellen’s mum, Claire, said “The chance to represent Australia at the Special Olympics World Games has lifted Ellen’s confidence to a new level. Travelling overseas with others her age, away from her parents, was a teenage rite of passage she could easily have missed out on.”

In Abu Dhabi in March, Ellen showed the world what she could do, winning five medals in the Women’s Artistic Gymnastics, including three gold the Women’s Level 3 Floor Exercises and Balance Beam, and a bronze medal in Uneven Bars. On the podium her face was the epitome of happiness and delight.

The joy and excitement she shared with us when telling her Special Olympics story was inspiring, it was a true reflection of the mission of the Special Olympics, to provide opportunities for people with an intellectual disability to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in an arena where they can shine.

Ellen’s message...

Australian Team 2019 Specia Olympic Summer Games 2019
Ellen Maher with Danebank 2019 Senior Life Skills students
Ellen Maher with Governor General and Mrs Cosgrove
Ellen presenting to Governor General and Mrs Cosgrove at the Team’s farewell function.

“Find something you love doing.
Keep working on it for as long as you enjoy it
and who knows where it might take you!”

The 2019 Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi was one of the largest, most inclusive, most unified, most diverse and most successful World Games in the history of Special Olympics. Special Olympics is for people with intellectual disability. It is a global inclusion movement using sport, health, education and leadership programs to empower people with intellectual disabilities.

Find out more about the Special Olympics at www.specialolympics.org

Watch the Opening Ceremony here of the Team Australia enter the arena for the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi


Ellen has been nominated for a sporting award given by the Lantern Club at Roselands. If you would like to support her nomination, please go the Lantern Club Roselands Facebook page, and 'like' her photo.

Danebank offers a limited number of places for entry to the Life Skills class for students with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities. This program is offered from Year 7 to Year 12. Click here for more information