By Madison Mataxas, Staff Writer
The swimmers of the Wingate University swim team are well-versed when it comes to their successes and achievements in and out of the pool; and, this does not stop when it comes to any chances the team has to give back to the surrounding Union County community. One way the team works with members of the community includes the Special Olympics program started in 2010 and hosted in the university’s natatorium every April.
The Special Olympics program gives those with disabilities a chance to have fun with others, get more comfortable with being in the pool with an experienced swimmer, as well as showing their competitive sides in various swimming events. The program is put together and managed by two Wingate juniors on the team. This year, those people are Henry O’Brien (Ocala, F.L.) and Corinne Mahoney (Bayville, N.J.). They not only set up the program but also pair swimmers with a “buddy” whom they will be spending an hour in the pool with every Wednesday for the entire month of April.
According to one of the program directors, Henry O’Brien, “The Special Olympics program here…affords those individuals who suffer from mental and/or physical handicaps the ability to practice and participate in a sport of their choosing in a safe, monitored environment. It promotes a sense of community and allows for them to practice social skills that they may not otherwise have the opportunity to use.”
This is O’Brien’s third year working with the program. His first year, as a freshman, he was a volunteer that worked in the water with the participants. His sophomore year he was given the opportunity to mentor under the previous instructors so that he would be able to learn how to run the program for his next, and current, year.
After being able to mentor under the previous directors, O’Brien says “This allowed me to see the program from a new light, and really helped me to appreciate it for the impact that it has and the amount of coordination it takes to make it all happen.” He explains that participants are recruited for the program from schools in the area, assisted living facilities for those with mental and physical disabilities, as well as getting the information around by word of mouth from caretakers or previous participants.
Senior Wingate swimmer, Lizzie McDevitt (Roswell, G.A.), has been a volunteer every year that she has been at the university and says it has impacted her life for the better. McDevitt says that her first year her buddy’s name was Scott and even though they would only walk back and forth in the shallow end, she loved their talks and the friendship that was created. She goes on to say that “…my sophomore year…I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to help out again. My new buddy, Ronnie, was very outgoing and showed me again why I should continue to be involved with this amazing program. Seeing everyone’s smiles throughout the years has made the experience so impactful.”
Both Lizzie McDevitt and Henry O’Brien enjoy the times they have while helping out and encourage other swimmers to volunteer as well. However, this year marks Lizzie’s last year of participation, and although she is sad, she says that she cannot wait to see new participants as well as some familiar faces. Through the Special Olympics program, swimmers can learn as much from their buddy as their buddy can from them, and it is a great way to become a part of the surrounding communities.
Edited by: Rachael Robinson