Cottonwood Aquatics Center hosts Special Olympics swim meet

Special Olympics athletes are awarded medals at Garrison Park after the meet. VVN/Jon Pelletier

Special Olympics athletes are awarded medals at Garrison Park after the meet. VVN/Jon Pelletier

COTTONWOOD-The Cottonwood Aquatics Center hosted a Special Olympics regional swim meet Saturday and about 60 athletes from Northern Arizona participated.

"Every year we bring athletes from all over Northern Arizona together to compete in all sorts of different swims," said Northern Arizona Regional Coordinator for Special Olympics Anna Turco. "Ranging from 25 meters all the way 200 meters we have freestyle, backstrokes, butterflies, and breast strokes."

Turco said athletes from Gila County, Camp Verde, and the Verde Valley competed in the regional meet at the CAC Saturday.

Gila Swim Coach Becky Derwort has been heavily involved in Special Olympics since 1978. She's an area director and puts in countless hours at competitions and practices.

Derwort recently traveled with Special Olympics athletes to the national competition in Lincoln, Nebraska.

"Nationals was one of those lifetime experiences. The camaraderie that was there, the athleticism, just the spirit of Special Olympics all at one place with a town that just opened their hearts to everybody was phenomenal," said Derwort. "Everybody from Arizona medaled and everyone did very well. They just exceeded expectations because they worked hard."

Derwort spoke about the future of Special Olympics. She likes where it's headed.

"One of the new things coming up is unified partners," said Derwort. She explained it's about people without intellectual disabilities partnering up with Special Olympics athletes and doing team sports.

"I really see the movement of Special Olympics changing where they're developing more friendships and higher level of competition," said Derwort. "I see this really becoming very big."

According to the Special Olympics website, unified partnerships "shatter stereotypes about intellectual disabilities in the process" of "having fun, promoting physical health and bringing people together."

One of the Special Olympics athletes excited about competing Saturday was Suzan W. from Rainbow Acres in Camp Verde.

She enjoys swimming because, "it's good exercise" and she "loves competing. I love the competitors, they're like friends."

Suzan said she's been at Rainbow Acres for 27 years and she loves it in part because of "neat coaches like Sandy."

When it's too cold to swim Suzan practices Bocce, but she prefers to swim.

Without volunteers the meet would never happen.

"Every one you see helping here is a volunteer," said Turco.

Among the volunteers were members of the Mingus Swim and Dive Teams.

Head Swim Coach Erin Estes has been involved in Special Olympics for many years.

"The Mingus Swim and Dive teams filled in as timers and escorts for the athletes," said Estes. "This is our main community service event of the year. We think it's important because we want our athletes involved in our community and to know that the world isn't always about them-it's about servicing others."

Estes also recognized the positive emotional impact the event had on her team.

"I had some of my swimmers come up to me and say 'this was a very inspirational experience'," said Estes.

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