ROBERT Holden is on top of the world after starring at one of the biggest sporting events on the globe.
The 22-year-old skier won three medals – including a glorious gold – at the Special Olympics World Winter Games in South Korea.
And no-one was prouder than mum Jane who watched her son ski to glory on the slopes of PyeongChang which attracted more than 8,000 athletes from 100 countries.
“I am incredibly proud of what Robert has achieved,” said Jane. “He is a credit to himself. He has done Lancashire, Rossendale and his club proud.”
Robert, a member of Rossendale Special Olympics team, was part of a Great Britain squad that won a total of 13 medals including six gold, four silver and three bronze medals.
Robert, who is studying lifeskills at Burnley College, won two silver medals in the Super G and giant slalom before winning gold on the final day in the slalom.
“When Robert was selected for the Great Britain team I told him to just enjoy himself and make the most the experience,” added Jane who accompanied her son to South Korea. “But to come back with three medals, including a gold is incredibly.”
Robert, from Newchurch, Rawtenstall, won his first silver medal in the Super G than added a second in the giant slalom and then saved the best until last in his least favourite event.
“The slalom is not Robert’s favourite event and after the first run, he was in fifth place. But he was superb in his second run to go on and win gold.”
To put what he achieved in to context, there were more than 100 competitors in his field.
He was also competing against skiers who regularly train and compete on snow while Robert trains on the dry slopes at Rossendale Ski Slope.
“I don’t think he has fully understood the enormity of what he has achieved,” added Jane.
“He was competing against the Americans and Canadians who ski on snow all the time. Robert just skis on plastic!”
The feat and the medal haul of the GB team was all the more remarkable as they only took seven skiers to South Korea while American boasted a squad of 200 athletes who competed in a range of winter sports.
The Special Olympics, which will be the biggest sporting event this year, were founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver – the sister of President John F Kennedy – back in 1968 and have been held every two years since, alternating between summer and winter games.
Robert, a former pupil at Broadfield and Tor View, got to meet Shriver’s son Tim who is the current CEO of the Special Olympics while Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition leader and pro-democracy campaigner gave a moving speech at the opening ceremony.
“For Aung San Suu Kyi to be there just underlines how massive an event this is,” said Jane. “ Her speech was very moving.”
With no funding, Robert has had to rely on financial support received to help achieve his dream.
The Masons, the Rossendale Lions and local businessman, Peter Kennedy of Bglobal all help fund the trip.
“Without that financial support then we would never have been able to have made this trip and for that we are extremely grateful,” said mum Jane.
Alison de Vial, chairman of the Rossendale Special Olympics team, says Robert has helped put the club on the map.
“We were only formed a few years ago but our numbers are growing all the time,” she said. “Robert has been a true inspiration and he has shown others what can be achieved.
“He has helped put the club on the map and we are delighted for him.”
The good news for Robert, and the bad news for his rivals, is that he is a talented golfer as well, playing off a handicap of just 14.
And the Rossendale Golf Club member has now set his sights on making it a double and competing in the Special Olympics Summer Games in Los Angeles in 2015.
“Golf is his favourite sport,” added Jane. “He has played the game since he was eight and works at the Drive-in in Rawtenstall where Scott and Amanda Grundy have been a great wonderful with him.”
Robert is hoping to compete in the national trials in Bath in August – and if he is half as successful as he was in South Korea, then he can expect to start saving for a trip to LA!