SportMaker Awards: Newtownabbey coach calls on clubs to nominate ‘unsung heroes’

It is often the small things that make a big difference and that’s what drives award-winning coach Lee Campbell to turn up rain, hail or shine to train athletes at the Newtownabbey Racers Special Olympics Club.

The dedicated coach has watched on with pride as her athletes with intellectual disabilities win gold medals at the World Games, but it is the delight she witnesses when an athlete understands and is able to do a small task that she still gets the biggest kick out of.

“It’s knowing that you are making a change to their life in some way that really impacts me,” she said. “I remember training an athlete in the shot put who was struggling to understand the importance of a high elbow. I had to use different communication methods and break down the skill into small details, which took a long time. But when it clicked with the athlete it was one of the best moments for me.”

She added: “I’ve coached athletes at Special Olympics World Games with some winning gold medals, which is amazing, but it is these seemingly smaller moments that really matter to me.”

Lee Campbell with her Sport NI SportMaker Award.

It is the Newtownabbey woman’s passion and creativity for coaching that shone through when she won Sport NI’s SportMaker Disability Coach of the Year Award in 2021.

“You don’t know what an impact you are having until things like these awards come up,” she said.

The sign language interpreter has taken part in a Sport NI video to encourage people to nominate their unsung sporting heroes to the organisation’s annual SportMaker Awards.

Lee added: “There are so many people out there doing wonderful things. You do wonder ‘why me?’ But someone saw something in me!”

Lee Campbell, third from left, with members of Newtownabbey Racers Special Olympics Club.

Extra Mile

Like all SportMaker winners Lee regularly goes the extra mile for the athletes she coaches. When lockdown happened, she was determined that the young people she teaches athletics to wouldn’t miss out on their weekly training knowing it would help them physically, socially and emotionally.

“When we went into lockdown, I was adamant that we were going live online that Wednesday night, our athletes had so much cancelled from their routines they had nothing else. If we could give them one thing that was part of their routine then why not? Our athletes adapted to Zoom, and they were fabulous. We did workouts to keep them fit and healthy and ensured we enjoyed the social aspect of it.

“We had Santa and an elf join us on Zoom, which was lovely! I remember one of the athletes asking Santa: ‘What happens if you get Covid?’ They were worried whether they would then get their presents. At Christmas time I did a Christmas tree challenge, there was themed exercises in each of the baubles such as ‘Santa Sumos’ and ‘O’Come All Ye Flutter Kicks’ to make it creative for the athletes and something different. It is very rewarding.”

Athlete Matthew from the Newtownabbey Racers Special Olympics Club with coach Lee Campbell.

Encouraging people to nominate their unsung sporting heroes for the awards, Lee said: “It is well worth people nominating. It is recognition for the person and the club in general. It gives everyone a boost. You see these people doing these things because they love it, but don’t underestimate how hard it is and the amount of work people do behind the scenes.

“If you think they deserve a nomination, put them through because they are doing more than what you see.”

Nominations for the SportMaker Awards are open until July 24 with categories recognising achievement at all levels of sports participation, from grassroots through to high performance. Click here to nominate or go to

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