ENGLAND Swim Meet is both Serious and Fun A few years ago aspiring Olympians splashed down its lanes, but on this day the pool was filled with children and several adults with disabilities. They swam hard, took their place on the medal stand and basked in the cheers of family and friends. Since 1992, Lions clubs in Europe have collaborated on the International Swimming Gala, a biennial swim meet that rotates among three nations. Lions held the latest competition at the sparkling Basildon Sporting Village in England, a training facility for the 2012 Olympics in London. Three dozen swimmers, some of whom had trained for months, competed in freestyle, breaststroke and backstroke races. Having fun was the chief goal, but the event was professionally run. Starters and timekeepers from a local swim club oversaw the races. Two twinning clubs, the Billericay Lions Club in England and the Voreifel Lions Club in Germany, first staged the event. Joining later was the Brussels Royale Lions Club in Belgium, which had also twinned with Voreifel. This year the Leigh-on-Sea and Romford Lions clubs in England also supported the meet. Most of the swimmers had Down syndrome, a few had autism and some had physical challenges such as cerebral palsy. They clearly enjoyed the competition and camaraderie. One swimmer from England was so inspired by the event that he decided to join a local swim club. Swimmers compete in the International Swimming Gala. Swimming was just one part of the daylong event. Competitors made pottery at a craft center, visited a zoo, ate dinner together and danced at a disco. The night out for families was groundbreaking for some. “One family told me it was the first time they had done something like that as a family,” says Steve Waters, a Billericay Lion. SWITZERLAND Cards Support Ancient Paintings The Convent of St. John in Müstair in Switzerland was founded in the 8th century presumably by Charlemagne. The convent church and the Holy Cross Chapel are the only remaining buildings from the Carolingian period. So an annual Christmas card based on historic paintings at the complex and supporting their restoration has been a popular, much-anticipated fundraiser for two Lions clubs for more than 30 years. This year’s card of the Val Müstair and Zimmerberg Lions clubs showed the convent’s patron, St. John the Baptist, sending his disciples to Jesus. Lion Rolf Gassmann, a painter and medical doctor, creates the art for the card. “His interpretation is much more colorful compared to what we can actually see,” says Walter Anderau of the Zimmerberg Lions Club. A craftsman restores a fresco at the Convent of St. John in Switzerland. The Holy Cross Chapel contains as many as eight levels of paintings. The clubs have been supporting the cleaning, documentation and stabilization of the paintings in the convent church and the chapel. The Convent of St. John’s is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. Its Carolingian and Romanesque frescoes are regarded as among the most significant in Switzerland. Müstair is the easternmost village in Switzerland— the Italian border is just over a kilometer from the complex. PORTUGAL Tremendous Tree Effort Disease killed tens of thousands of pine trees in a lovely forest near Lousã. So nearly 100 Lions were among 6,000 volunteers who planted 45,000 trees on a brisk fall day. The environmental action also involved control of invasive plants and weeds over 15 hectares (12 acres). Lions plant trees in Portugal. United Forest spearheaded the event. Supported by the Ministry of Agriculture, United Forest aims to plant 400 million trees in 30 years. The initiative was begun in 2007 to recover and maintain the ecosystem through reforestation, prevention of forest fires and control of invasive plants and pests. More than 150 million trees have been planted so far. JAPAN The Pleasure of a Good Seat For 17 years Lions in Kunitomi, a quaint town of 20,000, have ensured that commuters, walkers and, most recently, joggers can get a load off their feet. They made and maintain dozens of strategically placed sturdy benches. The benches are especially useful in a town like Kunitomi, which has buses but no train lines for a population with a large number of elderly. The 17 members of the club gather regularly at a community center to make or repair the benches. Last year members noticed more people taking up jogging, so they assembled a number of benches for placement in parks and other locations convenient to runners. The older benches are made of wood and metal. But last year the club president was the owner of a lumber yard, so the new benches are made from wood alone. Maintaining the benches requires hard work, but “the Lions enjoy the camaraderie and jovial atmosphere,” according to the Japanese LION. Lions in Kunitomi paint the new benches they made. Lion John Bartlett hurries the sheep as contestants try to count them.Photo by Fairfax NZ/Manawatu Standard NEW ZEALAND Counting Sheep— And Other Contests The old-fashioned country show in Fielding meant tractor and stagecoach rides, plenty of servings of “hot chips” (French fries) and, of course, zany contests centered around sheep, bred and raised in abundance locally. Not at all sheepish about their role, the Ashhurst Pohangina Lions Club organized three sheep-based events: Guess the Weight, Sheep Counting and Sheep Penning. For the first contest, “punters” (game players) forked over a gold coin to guess the weight of two rams. The theme of the weekend: farmers did much better than town folk. “The old farmers would poke and prod through the thick wool to make an informed guess. The townies would make wild guesses that ranged from 36 to 160 kilograms,” according to the New Zealand LION. The one with the closest guess won the pot of gold. For the penning activity, a team of two had to maneuver three sheep from a smaller pen into a larger one. “It made for a great spectator sport as the poorly informed frantically ran around waving arms and thinking to assert themselves over the sheep,” the LION story said. “The wiser heads coaxed and directed sheep to find their own way in.” For sheep counting, contestants had to count the number of sheep as they ran from one pen to another. Lion John Bartlett knew the key was to count them in pairs. “Some ‘good’ guys can count five at a time,” he said. At the end of the long weekend “sheep and Lions together were happy to pack up and head for home. Neither visitor nor sheep were any worse for wear.”
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