Special Olympics hosts pool party

Published 11:10 pm Monday, June 29, 2009

After the Suffolk Family YMCA closed on Sunday, a group of people took over the outdoor pool in the back of the facility.

However, the group wasn’t there to crash the pool. It was the end-of-the-season pool party for the Suffolk Special Olympics.

“A lot of people still don’t realize that Suffolk has a Special Olympics,” said Kathleen Morgan, a swim coach for the Suffolk Gators Special Olympics team.

Newsletter

Email newsletter signup

Special Olympics is an international organization devoted to providing physical and social enrichment for people with intellectual disabilities. Anyone with such a disability over the age of 8 can participate — there is no maximum age limit.

Just like the Olympics administered by the International Olympic Committee every four years, the Special Olympics athletes train, compete in qualifying meets, and then compete at the games. One of the major differences is that Special Olympics games are held every year.

Suffolk athletes compete in sports such as swimming, bowling, tennis, golf, volleyball and power lifting. The leaders are considering adding softball next year, they said.

“This is their big thing,” Morgan said. “They would not have a chance to compete if it weren’t for this.”

The ability to compete in a sport and develop their social skills has a noticeable impact on the athletes, Morgan said. Some athletes who used to sit in a corner and speak very little now are confident enough to walk up to strangers and strike up a conversation, she said.

“If it wasn’t for this, a lot of them would be sitting at home,” Morgan added.

At the pool party on Monday, several athletes sported gold, silver and bronze medals from the recent summer games in Richmond. Each athlete in attendance also received a medal for being on the team.

Kirk Willis, 36, a bowler, was one of those who came home from Richmond this year with a medal.

“My high score was 156,” he said, lamenting that someone beat him by four points.

Next year, Willis hopes to try something else.

“The next sport I’m going to do is volleyball,” he said. “I’m just having a good time and having fun.”

The Special Olympics is funded by donors, some of whom participate in the “Polar Plunge,” held every year. Polar Plunge participants gather sponsors, who pay them to run into the Atlantic Ocean at Virginia Beach in the first week of February. The Suffolk Special Olympics coaches and athletes recognized several donors at their pool party Sunday.