Six members of the Colorado Tidalwaves swimming team crossed the mountains to Grand Junction on Saturday to compete in the state swim meet for Special Olympics.
Each competitor — which included Laurelle Hellinga, Calvin Keim II, Ethan Newby, Ian McIatchie, Tim Miner and Josh Tarant — competed three times. Of the 15 events, the team won 13 medals and the remaining two events missed the podium but took fourth place.
Four of the team members had never competed in this level of competition, said Calvin Keim, co-coach of the Tidalwaves.
For McIatchie, the energy in the stadium could only be described as “buzzing” as he met new people and connected with his team.
For some of the team members, it was a mark of independence. Special Olympic swimming offers two categories of competition, assisted and unassisted. Those who compete in the assisted category have someone in the water helping them get through the event. Unassisted competitors must complete the event on their own, with only cheers from the crowd to encourage them.
Newby competed in the freestyle competition and the breaststroke, taking gold in each. He said he loved getting exercise through swimming and can’t wait for next year’s competition.
This was the first year that the Colorado Tidalwaves competed at the state competition. Together they entered the 4x25m relay race. After shaving off nearly a full minute from their practice time, the team took home the gold.
“We were a little skeptical on how our team was going to do because we had had ups and downs with timing. But I think we had a good break between our races so they were well rested. When it came to the relay race, they all swam their hardest,” Calvin Keim said.
Although the athletes gather for the competition, event organizers make sure there are opportunities for fun and connection. Athletes are invited to a Victory Celebration to dance and mingle with athletes from other areas of the state.
“There are very few opportunities for people with disabilities to be able to connect with their friends and this is as much of a social event as it is a competition,” a team parent shared with Calvin Keim.
According to Calvin Keim, the Tidalwave team members really brought team spirit and enthusiasm to the event. They cheered each other on and celebrated each other’s accomplishments.
“It was a great bonding experience,” Calvin Keim said. “It was a very positive experience for our team.”
Miner, who was chosen as athlete of the year for the northwest region, took home two gold medals and a silver medal. When he looks back on the event he said he will remember all of the smiles on the other athletes’ faces as they competed and celebrated their victories.
“They seemed so happy,” Miner said.
For his son, Calvin Keim II, the experience was extra special. Calvin Keim II was selected from nearly 1,300 athletes to carry the Special Olympic torch into the stadium. He said it was one of the highlights of the experience, according to his father, Calvin Keim.
“Myself and my other two coaches — Anne and Bryson — were so honored to have the families entrust us with their athletes. The athletes’ and the families’ support throughout the season was just fantastic,” Calvin Keim said.