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Special Olympics athletes place at Washington Summer Games
The Bremerton Kitsap Athletic Teams' aquatics team, the Seahorses, are training through June 2012. Last weekend the team sent six athletes to the Special Olympics Washington Summer Games.
According to results posted by Special Olympics Washington, five Seahorse swimmers placed at the 2012 Washington Summer Games.
Jerry Collins, 40, won a gold medal in the 200 meter freestyle, a silver in the 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay and placed fourth in the 200 meter backstroke.
Amy Owens, 34, finished the games with a silver in the 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay. Owens also brought home a bronze in the 100 meter freestyle and placed fifth in the 50 meter backstroke.
Chris O'Donnell, 23, secured silver medals in both the 200 meter freestyle and the 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay in addition to placing fourth in the 400 meter freestyle.
Mark Affonce, 22, won a gold medal in the 50 meter butterfly as well as a silver medal in the 100 meter freestyle event.
Austin Schultz, who at age 17 was the youngest Seahorse to medal, earned a silver in the 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay and placed fourth in both the 100 meter freestyle and 50 meter backstroke events.
More than 2,000 Special Olympics athletes from around Washington State competed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and at the King County Aquatics Center in Federal Way. Last year during the Summer Games the Seahorses were awarded with eight gold medals, seven silver medals, five bronze medals and 18 ribbons. Barb Pool, who is certified by the Special Olympics as a coach, is also the program coordinator. "If we don't have a coach, I step in and do it," she said. "I currently fill in the capacity of senior coach. We have dedicated help from new coach Jim Huff (in training), program coach Therese Owens and many volunteers and parents." The 25-member Seahorse team competes in the freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and in relays. The events range from 50 meter races to as long as 400 meters. The team, composed of swimmers from nine to 48 years old, has been practicing twice a week in the Bremerton Tennis & Athletic Club's saltwater chlorinated pool.
Every Wednesday from 3:45 to 4:15 and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. the team practices for upcoming meets.
Lifeguards help show the swimmers how to go off the diving blocks.
"Our group was seeking a place with personalized attention and service for our athletes," Pool said.
Pool notes that the Bremerton Tennis & Athletic Club also worked to accommodate the group with any safety concerns.
"Since our inception seven years ago, we've been training at this location for the last four years," she said. "It's a really safe environment for our athletes." Pool has seen tremendous growth in the individuals that make up the Seahorses team.
"It's unbelievable; first and foremost you see the personal pride and confidence these individuals begin to have in themselves," Pool said. "The athletes push themselves, they push each other to work hard and do their best. This builds confidence and teamwork. These individuals, through their participation with the Seahorses, prove that they are just as capable as others." With the team training at a local facility, Pool acknowledges, "It takes away the stigma that those with special needs can't keep up. It's cool, too, because the BTAC members are encouraging to the athletes. They ask about their current times and if they've beaten any goals. It's great." In addition to the Seahorses, the Bremerton Kitsap Athletic Teams includes sports training with intellectually or developmentally disabled athletes in the greater Bremerton and Silverdale areas of Kitsap County.
Spring athletics include aquatics as well as powerlifting, track and field and soccer. The summer months allow athletes to compete in golf and softball. The Bremerton Kitsap Athletic Teams highlights bowling in the fall months and offers interested participants the chance to train and compete in basketball and ice skating in the winter. While the games in Tacoma and Federal Way are not taking place during a qualifying year for national or world games, Pool and her athletes are looking forward to 2014, when qualifying participants can move forward to compete in the 2015 Special Olympic World Summer Games, which will be hosted in Los Angeles, marking the first time in 16 years that the games were held in the United States. Five Seahorse aquatics athletes qualified for the 2011 Special Olympics World Games in Athens, Greece, where more than 7,000 Special Olympics athletes from 170 counties participated. Unfortunately, the swimmers didn't attend.
"We are provided with a limited allocation from the state office in Seattle," Pool said. "We didn't have a swimming event allocation." In the 1960s Eunice Kennedy Shriver started what would become the Special Olympics. Shriver had a vision for a place and means for special needs and intellectually disabled individuals to gather. Camp Shriver morphed into the global Special Olympics movement. The first International Special Olympic games were held July 19-20, 1968, at Soldier Field in Chicago. Over 1,000 athletes participated. Bremerton Tennis & Athletic Club General Manager Julie Jablonski added, "We try to go above and beyond what's expected to meet the individual needs of people while also striving to improve services, needs and requests of groups. We're honored to fill a need."
In addition to meeting the needs of the Seahorse team, the Bremerton Tennis & Athletic Club also holds Frances Morgan autistic and special needs swim programs and local Boy Scout troops utilize the facility to conduct their bi-annual water safety swim tests.
Pool noted that the Bremerton Kitsap Athletic Teams are developing plans for a year-round team to compete in more meets.