Tom Lugg was born with severe learning difficulties and was very shy as a child. But around the age of 11 Tom started playing golf through Special Olympics South Africa. His first coach was impressed by Tom’s talents and convinced his family to sign him up for private lessons. Tom quickly rose to the top at Special Olympics’ golf competitions and went on to win a gold medal in the highest division at the 2007 and 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games. In 2012, Tom was accepted as the first Special Olympics athlete to the Gary Player Golf School of Excellence in Johannesburg. Now, Tom plays in many mainstream golf competitions including the Johannesburg Pro-Am and the Gary Player Invitational. Playing in these competitions has been a “dream come true” for him. He says, “We should never feel limited, just because we are intellectually challenged. Golf is for everyone.”
The Christmas Records Grants gave everyone faith that Special Olympics South Africa would succeed.
Special Olympics South Africa was founded in 1991 and now trains more than 48,000 athletes and hosts more than 1000 competitions each year. But it wasn’t until the Program began receiving annual Christmas Records Grants that Special Olympics South Africa grew and could regularly fight for athletes like Tom. For years, the Program had a hard time finding and keeping leaders because people were uncertain that Special Olympics would succeed in South Africa. This hurt the athletes’ ability to train and compete.
The Christmas Records Grants gave everyone faith that Special Olympics South Africa would succeed. This helped recruit new leaders and staff who brought hope, respect, and energy to the Program. The Christmas Records Grants also helped Special Olympics South Africa create new programs like Healthy Athletes and Unified Sports. South Africa hosted the first Special Olympics Africa Unity Cup in 2012. This four-day event featured teams from 10 African countries competing in football (soccer). The Special Olympics South Africa men’s team were thrilled to walk away with the gold.
Special Olympics South Africa continues to grow with support from Christmas Records Grants. South African athletes competed in floor hockey and figure skating in the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Korea, the South African Team returned with 66 medals from the 2015 Special Olympics Summer World Games in Los Angeles. In 2016 Special Olympics South Africa hosted their biggest National Winter Games to date in which the entire country was represented. In 2016 Special Olympics South Africa also launched their Soccer and Floor Hockey leagues in order to create more competition opportunities for their athletes. In 2017 they competed in 3 sporting events at the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria.
Special Olympics South Africa aims high in their goals, but no higher than Tom Lugg. He is on his way to reaching his dream of turning pro with the help and support of Special Olympics.