By CAITLIN WILLIAMS
For the first time, the University of Mary Washington swim teams hosted a Special Olympics swim meet in the Goolrick pool. Although community outreach is required for NCAA Division III schools, UMW swim teams took the alliance between Fredericksburg Special Olympics and the UMW athletic department a step further.
In years past, the UMW swim teams volunteered with Special Olympics swimmers to help them perfect their swimming techniques, but never had the UMW swim teams hosted a Special Olympics meet at the university.
On Sunday, April 3, the UMW swim team helped train the Special Olympic swimmers for their upcoming meet hosted at UMW.
While training, each Special Olympic swimmer was paired up with a UMW swimmer. Their primary focus was to provide tips and further insight of how to perfect their methods. “We talk about the recruiting process while the kids are here, about school, service and swimming and those being the three ‘S’s that are important in your college experience,” said UMW men’s and women’s swim coach Abby Brethauer.
The Special Olympics swim team had a wide age range from the youngest of 10 years old to the oldest swimmer in their 50s. Swimmers are diagnosed with diverse disabilities such as Autism Spectrum Disorder and Down Syndrome.
The apparent age differences and some of the UMW swimmers inexperience of working with people of special needs caused some difficulty in communication between swimmers. But UMW swimmers remained patient and willing to work with their partners.
“Everyone on our team was so patient and it actually looked like they were really enjoying themselves,” said junior Shannon Coryell.
For the meet, UMW swimmers volunteered in shifts to time the events, running the computer system, helping to get swimmers to their enrolled events on time and cheer the swimmers on.
“It’s cool to show people what we do and get people excited about it,” Coryell said.
This is one of many events the UMW swim team has participated in with their community service outreach.
“This is forming actual relationships and being in the community with people that are from around here,” Brethauer said.
The UMW swim program also runs an annual canned food drive in the fall semester among other events. They’ve participated with the project ‘Fear to Freedom’ in which UMW student-athletes, students, survivors of sexual assault, people from hospitals and people from the community came to put together kits for survivors of sexual assault. They delivered the kits to the hospitals and treatment centers for the victims.
With the rise in prevalence to sexual assault, a growing awareness has resulted. This year, about 200 people were in attendance and the project ran out of kits to put together.
The UMW swim teams have continued to find ways to be more proactive within their community outreach and has a community service group on the team that come up with ideas of how to go out into the community and make a difference.