A Yorkshire Housing apprentice has done his county and country proud by winning gold with Team GB at the Special Olympics.
Neil Hartley, 21 (main picture), was part of the squad that beat the USA 26-20 in the basketball final in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
The Bradford-born defensive ace is a horticulture apprentice in the Environmental & Fleet Services division of Yorkshire Housing’s Homeworks team.
He has autism but first took up basketball as a 13-year-old as an after-school activity in 2011.
Hartley, who helps with landscaping and looking after gardens in the Bradford, Cleckheaton, Halifax and Huddersfield areas, came to prominence in 2017 with bronze for Yorkshire at the national summer games in Sheffield.
It is the UK’s largest multi-sports event for athletes with intellectual disabilities.
He went on to a role in Team GB’s gold run at the 2019 Special Olympics.
In the group stages, Team GB’s men won three, including a close 22-21 victory over Canada, and lost three of their six matches.
But, having qualified for the knock-out competition, they won four games in a row to reach the final.
Hartley played in four matches in total, the Canada success, a group stage 25-23 win over the USA, a 24-20 victory over Israel and then the final. He was quietly confident the well-drilled Team GB side had the skill to go all the way.
“The only thing I was nervous about was flying. I had to take a motion sickness tablet to stop myself being sick,” he said. “It was an incredible experience. I got to see an amazing part of the world and winning was a great feeling.”
The Special Olympics, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, is the world’s biggest sporting event for athletes with intellectual or physical disabilities.
It was founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who was the sister of former US president John F Kennedy.
The games, which saw 7,000 athletes take part, offered 24 sports in Abu Dhabi, from badminton to judo and sailing.
For basketball, there were both men’s and women’s competitions, with each squad containing 20 players, 10 men and 10 women.
Hartley’s trip was organised by Bradford Disability Sport and Leisure (BDSL), a charity which had four other members chosen for various sports in Abu Dhabi.
Supported by his family, Hartley took part in events such as a Yorkshire Three Peaks walk to help raise the funds needed to travel.
Yorkshire Housing environmental services manager Andy Lillywhite said: “The team are over the moon with his recent success at the Special Olympics and expected nothing less – Neil’s commitment and attention to detail is exceptional.
“Working with support workers and the apprenticeship team, we are certain Neil has the brightest of futures with Yorkshire Housing.”