INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – Sunday marks the final day of the Florida Special Olympics Aquatics Competition being held at the North County pool.
It’s the last day for residents to get out to the stands and cheer on the hundreds of swimmers from around the state, including 10 who represent Indian River County.
“We’re very proud to host them,” said Mike Redstone, assistant director of the Indian River County Recreation Department.
Sunday’s competition will run 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is free, though refreshments are available for a nominal fee.
“It continues to be amazing,” he added of the community support – not just volunteers, but also the spectators who cheer and applaud the athletes. “Seeing the smiles when they come out of the pool is what it’s all about.”
Five of the 10 Indian River County swimmers competed on Saturday in the long-course. Sunday’s competition will feature the remaining five swimmers in short-course swims.
The swimmers include Zach Briley, Ann Louise Skalacki, Amber Fallo, Erik Byrnes, Chris Dunphey, Kristin Fak, Christyn DeVane, Brian Wilkie, Danny Barcus, and Shannon McQuillen.
They each won at least one blue ribbon in the Area Aquatics Competition in August – only those who receive a 1st place finish can move on to the State competition, according County Coordinator Darla Danis, a.k.a. “Coach Fruitcake.”
“It’s the hardest part of my job,” Danis said, explaining that 15 county athletes had placed 1st in August, but there were only 10 slots available.
The competitors were selected through a draw of names from a hat.
The swimmers have given up their Saturdays since May training for the swim meets.
“Some of these guys have been going for years and years and years,” Danis said of the county’s swimmers.
This year’s crop of athletes benefited from dedicated coaches and volunteers, who were able to train the swimmers pretty much one-on-one, Danis said.
“That makes the biggest difference,” she said.
The top finishers from the state games will move on to the National Aquatics Competition, and from there, the World games.
While the swim season for Special Olympics begins to wind down, Special Olympics Indian River County is getting ready for bowling.
After bowling, athletes – if they choose – can move on to track and field, soccer or equestrian sport.
Danis said some Special Olympians choose one sport and when it’s over, take the rest of the year off while others hop from sport to sport year-round.
Danis explained that it costs Special Olympics Indian River County approximately $15,000 annually to keep its athletic programs going, providing opportunities to the athletes.
The non-profit organization is able to keep going through donations from the community and volunteers, Danis said.
“You don’t have to be an expert,” she said of any of the sports. Volunteers can dedicate as little as two hours a week and serve a crucial role in encouraging the athletes.
Financial contributions are always welcome, according to Danis, who explained that checks should be made out to “Special Olympics Indian River County” to be sure the funds go to the local organization and not the state.
For more information about Special Olympics in Indian River County, visit www.SpecialOlympicsIRC.org or call County Coordinator Darla Danis at (772) 778-6400.