By Mike Bielecki and Joe Castagna
SEBASTIAN — The North County Aquatics Center played host to the Special Olympics State Aquatics this weekend in Sebastian. Several athletes from Indian River County participated, and everyone reaped the benefits of this great two-day event.
“It was so well organized, and the volunteers made it a real pleasure,” said newly appointed Indian River County Special Olympics Coordinator Darla Danis of those who pitched in to make the event happen. “We hosted 330 athletes, and had over 400 volunteers this year. The Indian River County Recreation Department is a well-oiled machine when they help run big events like this, and we love having them here.” The Championship short course events (25m) took place on Sunday, and three Vero Beach swimmers had outstanding performances. In the 30 and up age group, Angel Kennedy took third in Backstroke and fifth in Freestyle. In the 16-21 group, Lauren LaFortune and Jesse Schacht placed fourth and 16th respectively in Freestyle, with LaFortune also picking up second in Backstroke.
Meet Director Fawna Hattrup praised the effort of athletes, and wanted to thank the many organizations that came together for the event.
“The outpouring from the community is awesome,” said Hattrup. “Sebastian River High School and Michael Stutzke played big roles in helping us put this together. The opening ceremonies and dance on Saturday were real highlights for this event.”
Sebastian River High School hosted the 2009 Special Olympics State Aquatics Championship Opening Ceremonies on Saturday for the fourth year in a row. Over 500 were in attendance including coaches, volunteers, athletes and their family members.
The ceremonies began with a dinner that was catered by the Sebastian Culinary School, followed by a performance by the Sebastian River High School’s Drum Line. After the performance the opening ceremonies began.
All 30 counties where introduced one by one, and most counties had between three and 17 athletes accompanied by their coaches and volunteers.
In all there were 323 athletes and 137 coaches. In order to qualify for the State Championships each athlete had to go through a county, and then regional competitions. The top three athletes from the area competitions advanced to the State Championship.
All the attendees where very happy with the accommodations, according to Phil Macharg Director of Sports and Training, who has been involved with the Special Olympics for 25 years said.
“Sebastian has done an amazing job hosting the Aquatics Championships, this is the best events we attend state wide,” he added.
For many of the athletes Special Olympics provides them with a sense of pride and accomplishment.
Carole Demery and her daughter, Nicole, who was participating in the 50-yard breast, 50-yard free, and 50-yard free relay were very excited about the races and being involved in the Special Olympics.
“Nicole has made a lot of friends through the program,” Demery said. “It’s not just about the swimming, we also have a lot of extracurricular activities as well.”