Steamboat Springs Before Steamboat Springs High School senior Christy Warner leaves for Colorado State University in the fall, she will show her dedication to Special Olympics by personally finding someone to replace her as the coach of the swim team. She wants to make sure her team will continue on next year without missing a stroke.
What the swimmers will be missing, though, is a coach who has a great character and a genuinely caring nature, parent Jan Kaminski said.
Another swimmer's parent, Val Chambers, said she hates to see Warner's upbeat and outgoing influence go. Warner's influence, Chambers said, has helped raise her son Kelly's swimming ability to a new level and also has done wonders for Kelly's self-esteem.
"She cares about the kids and that's the most important part," Kaminski said. "Kids know when people are going through the motions and that's why they love Christy, because they know she cares."
Warner volunteered as a sophomore to coach the Special Olympics swim team when it began three years ago. From the first practice, she grabbed the paddle boards and took control of the group by teaching three children with Down syndrome and one autistic child basic swimming techniques.
"When they wanted to get Special Olympics swimming started, Val Chambers called me and asked if I knew of anyone who would want to coach," Warner said. "I told her that even though I didn't have any coaching experience, I'd love to help out."
Since then, Warner has been amazed at how much her athletes have progressed over the years. The first year they couldn't swim across the pool, she said, and this year she could sign them up to compete in any event because each could swim any stroke.
"It's an awesome thing for a senior in high school to be so caring and to take on such a level of commitment," Chambers said.
Warner juggled high school with Special Olympics, Grand Futures and the Sailors swim team. To compete in swimming herself, she drove to Craig a couple of times a week to swim there team because Steamboat doesn't have a high school team, Warner said.
"She's a busy girl, but she always managed her time to help us out with the swimming program," Chambers said. "She's the type of person who is willing to jump in and help out with anything."
Even with all of her other commitments, Warner still dedicated at least an hour a week to the Special Olympics team.
"It's really hard work for Christy to understand each child's limitations and take that limitation and turn it into a success in an event," Kaminski said.
One such success came recently, when Warner realized that one of her swimmers, Beau Vogel, was able to swim without assistance. He had competed in meets before, but only with the help of someone else, Warner said. Before the team's last local meet on May 13, the coach realized that Vogel could swim by himself if he was in the deep end of the pool. So, at that meet, he swam an unassisted race for the first time.
"I had to learn patience at first and explain it to the kids in an individual sense," Warner said. "I had to learn to teach swimming in a visual way. It was rewarding to actually see Beau swim by himself."
Accomplishments such as those are rewarding for both the coach and the swimmer. Kaminski said that he has seen a great change in his daughter, Jamie, since she became involved with the swimming program.
"It has been wonderful for her self-esteem to be able to compete in sports like other kids," Kaminski said.
Warner is hoping that the current assistant coach, Emily Hines, who is a sophomore, will take over the head coaching position. If that doesn't work, Warner said, she will personally find someone to fill the position.
"I want the program to keep going because the kids have improved so much and it would be sad to see it end," Warner said. "These are amazing kids that have big hearts."
After Warner goes to college, she's not planning to say goodbye to the athletes she's coached or the program. Warner plans to come back from CSU next year to cheer on her swim team. She'd also like to keep on volunteering while in college by doing something with the Special Olympics in Fort Collins.
Larissa Keever is an intern with the Steamboat Pilot/Steamboat Today.