Local Special Olympics swimmers head to state

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— When asked how she plans to spend the next two weeks preparing for the 2007 Special Olympics Colorado Summer Games, June 2 and 3 in Greeley, Jaimee Sexton has one emphatic answer.

"We need to swim harder, harder and harder," Sexton said, pounding her fist at each beat. "We need to work on our starts and our finishes."

Sara Barry is not surprised by the swimmer's work ethic. The volunteer coach has been inspired by the diligence and improvement she has witnessed while coaching the group of five swimmers two days a week for the past two months.

"It's my first year (coaching), and it certainly won't be my last," Barry said. "It's the coolest thing I've ever done."

The pay-off for the swimmers' hard work was an impressive showing Saturday at the Special Olympics Colorado Western Area Summer Games. The five athletes - Kelly Chambers, 23; Jamie Kaminski, 22; Sexton, 22; Rhianna Gifford, 20; and Courtney Vogel, 22 - each walked away with at least one gold medal in an individual event.

"To see them up there on the podium, smiling ear to ear, was priceless," said Barry, whose swimmers finished with a total of eight gold and three silver medals. "They medaled in every event I put them in."

Perhaps "Team Steamboat's" greatest accomplishment was its finish in the coed, 400-yard freestyle relay.

"They weren't sure if their heat time was good enough to win, so they thought they took silver," Barry said. "When it was announced they had won, Kelly (Chambers) was so excited he was giving everyone high-fives, and then on the podium, the more that people clapped, the more he kept hamming it up and flexing for the crowd."

"It was awesome," Chambers said, already looking forward to the state competition.

Ginny Cannon, day program coordinator at Horizons Specialized Services, said she also took a team of 20 local athletes with developmental disabilities to the competition, which included track and field events and weight lifting in addition to swimming.

"They did so outstanding and won so many medals, I didn't even have a count," Cannon said.

While Kaminski will always remember the feeling of winning gold, Cannon thought the whole of the experience added up to much more than the individual results.

"It was a beautiful day, and for more than a month, these kids practiced and put in hard work," Cannon said, crediting the volunteer efforts of coach Susan Ross. "Even if they didn't win, to compete and be athletic is something that's so happy for them to do and be proud of themselves."

- To reach Dave Shively, call 871-4253

or e-mail dshively@steamboatpilot.com

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