Special Olympics athletes prep for regional

By Dana Amireh

Local area Special Olympic aquatics athletes are mentally and physically preparing for their regional competition on Saturday.

Team Fresno Fire will be hosting the annual Regional Aquatics Meet for the Central Valley at Clovis High, which includes teams from Tulare, Madera, Tuolumne and Stanislaus.

Starting in the first week of March, athletes from Team Fresno Fire meet every Monday and Wednesday night to get ready for this year’s competition, which determines if they qualify for the Northern California State Games held at UC Davis. The State Games are a qualifying meet to go to the National Games.

“Athletes that are part of Team Fresno have a requirement of eight weeks of training,” said head coach Michele Carmichael.

All of the athletes have some sort of intellectual disability, but that does not interfere with their swimming abilities.

Special Olympics was created in the early 1960s, when Eunice Kennedy Shriver made a day camp for individuals with intellectual disabilities at her home.

This has gained recognition and, in 1968, the first international Special Olympics  were held in Chicago.

Special Olympics provides athletic opportunities to children and adults with intellectual disabilities, instilling the confidence they need to succeed in life.

With the help of the community this chapter has the ability to provide swimmers with swimsuits, towels, duffel bags and parkas at little to no cost.

“We are a community-based program and are able to take athletes out of the Fresno area. Everyone who helps out is a volunteer. With the help and support of Valley businesses and sponsors, we get to do little extra things like swimming pins, bags and towels,” Carmichael said.

Currently, there are eight coaches that have volunteered their nights to help out these athletes, five of which are Fresno State students with an array of different majors.

Coach Chantelle Showalter, a senior at Fresno State, encourages volunteering because it gives students the chance to be involved in things that could change their lives.

“I feel that volunteering with Special Olympics has broadened my outlook to volunteer,” Showalter said. “When the season ends, I actually get withdrawals. I feel that I am not only helping them , but they are helping me be more caring, patient and find the positives in negatively perceived situations.”

This year’s regional event is expecting at least 75 athletes that are able to compete in three events each. Each event has an official starter and is judged on the strokes and are required to follow the USA swimming regulations.

“We couldn’t do it without the support of the parents and family. They’re vital,” Carmichael said.

Swim coach Katherine Burton doesn’t think being a coach is as important as helping and being an active member in your community. She enjoys coaching because it enables her to work closer with these athletes and “it’s fun teaching them stills and techniques while maintaining the emotional environment that they themselves create.” She describes the athletes as upbeat and that their attitudes are contagious.

“As for May 4, I look forward to meeting other athletes and coaches from different teams. I think ‘may the force be with you” is sort of like saying “may you have strength’ and with personal strength and motivation, one could do anything and I think the athletes feel the same way,” Burton said.