The Capital Area Special Olympics Swim Team earned 43 gold medals,15 silver and 8 bronze, plus two fifth-place ribbons at a recent statewide meet, said volunteer Coach Lauren O’Neill, all rewarding moments that came after months of hard work and fun.
O’Neill said the team took 24 swimmers to the statewide Special Olympics State Fall Classic in Lafayette on Oct. 17, and 21 participated in 47 swimming events.
Each athlete competed in three events and one relay, she said, and they, along with dedicated volunteer coaches, have been at practices faithfully, twice a week since mid-summer.
The swim program has grown rapidly, O’Neill said, since the team’s inception about five years ago.
“We had to combine the Florida Parishes team members with our team members just to have enough people to form a team,” O’Neill said. “We practiced at the (Paula G.) Manship YMCA because it was a good middle point from Baton Rouge and Livingston parishes.”
Since then, news of the team has spread, mostly by word-of-mouth, and participation grew each year until they grew too large to manage all in one pool, so they split into separate teams again.
The Baton Rouge swimmers began practicing at Crawfish Aquatics on Mondays and Thursdays, O’Neill said, and growth has been so consistent that they’re starting to get crowded again.
“Thankfully, Crawfish is making room for us at their new facility,” she said. That will buy them a little more space to grow.
O’Neill attributes the popularity of the team with the vibrant community of athletes of all ages participating in Special Olympics sports. Most participants also compete in nonswimming categories of the games, she said.
Aside from that, she said, swimming not only is a great form of low-impact exercise for people with mobility issues, it’s also a great way for athletes with physical limits to compete.
Athletes, ranging from ages 9 to 60, are: Alise Gros, Andrew Beckwith, Ashley Reno, Brennan Batts, Brittany Harvey, Chris Ballard, Christel Dugas, Dakota Flauss, Dalton Flauss, Donnie Guillory, Grace Bourgoyne, Josiah Ringuette, Juliette Mickell, Kathryn Sisson, Kory Efferson, Marisa Segura, Meghan Burns, Patrick Black, Randi Babin, Rose Garrett, Sinclair Cotter, Will Johannessen, Brandon Wilson and Greg Gross.
Team coaches are Mary and Robert Ballard, Blake Black, Angela Harvey, O’Neill and Summer Rogers.