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Special Olympics World Games: British athletes giving something back

Britain's Special Olympics team and their counterparts from around the world will be bags of nerves, excitement and anticipation as the clock counts down to the World Games opening ceremony in Los Angeles on Saturday.

After months of hard work, being a part of the showbusiness start to such a big event will, temporarily at least, put stars in the eyes of many of the athletes who landed in California this week.

Some will think of little other than the competition that lies ahead and how they will fare, but for many there is also a desire to spread the joy of Special Olympics and give something back.

"Special Olympics has accelerated my sporting development quite a bit," said British judo athlete Chris Murphy, who has autism.

"I've kicked up my own training, my head coach has kicked on my training and I have been showing other kids at my special needs club that they could sign up for something like this and it could be good for them.

"You get to meet so many different people and everybody has been really, really helpful. It has been a really good influence.

"I'd like to show the next generation - or even this generation - what we can achieve and break down those walls."

Murphy grew up in Glasgow but speaks with an American accent, something he picked up as a child watching superheroes like Batman and Superman. The voice stuck, he said, because of his autism.

But while the 20-year-old's accent has always made him stand out in Scotland, he is a confident young man after thriving in sport.

"Judo helped me with my school work, helped me to socialise, talk to new people and see new places," Murphy said. "It has been a very positive influence on my life.

"A lot of people, when they find out I'm autistic, kind of go 'hmm' and have a looking-down aspect on it. I like to go around and say: 'Look I may be autistic but I can still do whatever I want'.

"I do a bit of part-time coaching at my club. I work with kids without intellectual disabilities, too, and if they get used to people with special needs, when they get older they will have a better understanding and not be so wary.

"You need a lot of mental discipline for judo and it is about respect. We bow to each other when we go on to the mat and come off it; that is a mark of resect."

Is that what Murphy is after, respect? "Yes, exactly. We are all people."

Another athlete in the British team, table tennis' Jessica Bromley, is the oldest of three sisters who have enjoyed the support and opportunities Special Olympics offers.

The 34-year-old is also one of the veterans of the team, having first participated in the early 1990s and competed in six National Games as well as the 1995 World Games in Connecticut.

Initially participating in gymnastics, Bromley also competed in swimming before taking up table tennis and working her way to the top of the discipline.

"Special Olympics has given me courage and confidence. I've made new friends [too] because I can be a bit shy," she said.

"I first did gymnastics and that was when I knew I had problems with balance. On the beam you had to walk in a straight line and I kept falling off.

"But my learning disability is mainly my voice. Some people don't understand me. I have got a speech problem and with my hearing as well. I have to take my time, but now I've found my own voice.

"I'd like to help others. Special Olympics helps me so I try to encourage others. I'm just trying to get on and to help other people as a role model, saying 'come on, you don't have to be that person any more, you be who you are - it doesn't matter if you have a learning disability or not'."

You can watch the Special Olympics World Games opening ceremony live, and for free, on ESPNPlayer.com