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‘This is a wonderful thing’: Special sports day at Suffolk airbase is hailed a success

An athlete celebrates with her escort, Airman 1st Class Clarence Bennett, after getting a basketball in the hoop at the 37th Joan Mann Special Sports Day at RAF Mildenhall Picture: LEXIE WEST/USAF

An athlete celebrates with her escort, Airman 1st Class Clarence Bennett, after getting a basketball in the hoop at the 37th Joan Mann Special Sports Day at RAF Mildenhall Picture: LEXIE WEST/USAF

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Nearly 200 athletes with physical and learning disabilities took part in the Joan Mann Special Sports Day event at RAF Mildenhall at the weekend.

Left to right: Iris Weimer, volunteer; Neil Draper, athlete; U.S. Air Force Col. Robert Horton, 352nd Special Operations Wing vice commander; and U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Clint Grizzell, 752nd Special Operations Group chief enlisted manager; cut a cake celebrating the 37th Joan Mann Special Sports Day at RAF Mildenhall Picture: LEXIE WEST/USAFLeft to right: Iris Weimer, volunteer; Neil Draper, athlete; U.S. Air Force Col. Robert Horton, 352nd Special Operations Wing vice commander; and U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Clint Grizzell, 752nd Special Operations Group chief enlisted manager; cut a cake celebrating the 37th Joan Mann Special Sports Day at RAF Mildenhall Picture: LEXIE WEST/USAF

Around 600 volunteers from RAF Mildenhall, RAF Lakenheath, RAF Honington and the Airman Leadership School at RAF Feltwell assisted the children at the 37th annual event on Saturday.

The children, who came from 28 schools across the country, and more than 100 carers enjoyed a day of fun and games at the Suffolk base.

Joan Mann was a Ministry of Defence employee who worked in the RAF Mildenhall public affairs office many years ago.

She organised the special sports day to offer children with disabilities a day of fun, and to bring the military and local community closer together.

Royal Air Force Cpl. Natalie Fields, 1st Tactical Police Squadron, RAF Honington, times an athlete competing in the obstacle course at the 37th Joan Mann Special Sports Day at RAF Mildenhall Picture: LEXIE WEST/USAFRoyal Air Force Cpl. Natalie Fields, 1st Tactical Police Squadron, RAF Honington, times an athlete competing in the obstacle course at the 37th Joan Mann Special Sports Day at RAF Mildenhall Picture: LEXIE WEST/USAF

The athletes competed in individual and team events, including putt-putt golf, bowling, football kick, obstacle course, wheelchair slalom, 500-yard run and American football throw.

Master Sgt. Philip Curry, 352nd Special Operations Maintenance Group first sergeant and co-lead of the event committee, said: “This is the biggest community outreach event we have in the tri-base area and between 200 and 300 athletes come on base every year.

“It’s a really good opportunity for the U.S. Air Force through the community outreach to show that we care about the local community, and it gives the athletes a chance to come on base and compete in games they wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to compete in.”

In addition to the sporting events, the athletes were able to interact with therapy dogs, view an American fire truck and security forces vehicle, and see explosive ordnance disposal equipment and a KC-135 Stratotanker, CV-22 Osprey and C-130J Commando II.

An athlete competes in the 100-yard run at the 37th Joan Mann Special Sports Day at RAF Mildenhall Picture: LEXIE WEST/USAFAn athlete competes in the 100-yard run at the 37th Joan Mann Special Sports Day at RAF Mildenhall Picture: LEXIE WEST/USAF

Iris Weimer previously worked at RAF Mildenhall for 40 years and has volunteered at the event since its inception 37 years ago.

“Joan was my special friend and I used to help her because this event is a good cause and a wonderful thing,” she said.

“Everyone is so kind, and I enjoy it and get so much out of this myself. To see all these people here, who are so happy and so loving, I look forward to this every year as much as they all do.

“Being with all the people is what I love – it’s so wonderful to look around and see how happy everyone is.

U.S. Airman 1st Class Alex Dixon, left, 100th Maintenance Squadron, and U.S. Air Force Maj. Andy Shirley, right, 48th Dental Squadron, laugh with an athlete at the 37th Joan Mann Special Sports Day at RAF Mildenhall Picture: LEXIE WEST/USAFU.S. Airman 1st Class Alex Dixon, left, 100th Maintenance Squadron, and U.S. Air Force Maj. Andy Shirley, right, 48th Dental Squadron, laugh with an athlete at the 37th Joan Mann Special Sports Day at RAF Mildenhall Picture: LEXIE WEST/USAF

“This event means everything to me – it’s been a big part of my life for so many years and I plan to stay involved with it for as long as I can.”

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Clint Grizzell, 752nd Special Operations Group chief enlisted manager, high fives an athlete during the medal ceremony at the 37th Joan Mann Special Sports Day at RAF Mildenhall Picture: LEXIE WEST/USAFU.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Clint Grizzell, 752nd Special Operations Group chief enlisted manager, high fives an athlete during the medal ceremony at the 37th Joan Mann Special Sports Day at RAF Mildenhall Picture: LEXIE WEST/USAF

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