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Yorkshire Housing apprentice Neil Hartley won gold with Team GB at the Special Olympics last month.

Neil, 21, 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 and 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.

Neil, 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.

Neil 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.

Neil was quietly confident the well-drilled Team GB side had the skill to go all the way.

He joked: “The only thing I was nervous about was flying. I had to take a motion sickness tablet to stop myself being sick.”

 

He added: “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.

Neil’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, Neil took part in events such as a Yorkshire Three Peaks walk to help raise the funds needed to travel.

Neil, who celebrated his 21st birthday while in Abu Dhabi, was a pupil at the Southfields Grange campus in Bradford.

He continued playing basketball at the city’s Manningham Sports Centre and from there his career took off.

His idol is Michael Jordan, the legendary former Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards basketball player.

Neil took inspiration from Jordan’s career and said: “Autism is just something I’ve got live with. But I’ve never let it stop me doing anything.”

He joined Yorkshire Housing in August last year and studies for one day a week at Shipley College.

Neil said: “The really good thing with going to college is there’s off-the-job training and classroom work.

 

“I study subjects such as English and Maths, and it’s like everything else, there’s some things that I’m good at and other things I’m not so good at, but I always do my best.”

Neil is based at Yorkshire Housing’s depot on Neville Road in Bradford, where he quickly earned a reputation for his excellent work and bright personality.

Yorkshire Housing environmental services manager Andy Lillywhite said: “Since joining us, Neil has become a very valued member of the team.

 

“He is very capable young man and we would not be without him.

 

“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.

 

“His mentors, Damian Smith and David Carmichael, have been instrumental in Neil’s success at Environmental Services.

 

“We are all very proud of our Neil and are committed to his future.”

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