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Your World. Your Stories. Everyday.


Special Olympics swim meet fosters competition and camaraderie



Metea Valley hosted the annual Special Olympics regional swimming competition on March 21.

Special Olympics Illinois collaborated with District 204 to host the Region C regional swimming competition for over 30 years. Metea Valley is hosting the meet for the eighth year in a row. 

Special education teacher Kim Pehlke coordinated with Special Olympics to organize this event. Planning for the next competition starts the day after the previous one has been held and will continue during the second semester which is when volunteers are recruited, lunches are ordered, and final plans are made. 

“So tomorrow, March 22, [planning] starts for [the] next year. And that’s when we figure out the date for the next year,” Pehlke said. 

Special Olympics Illinois is a statewide organization which seeks to make sports more accessible and offers competition and training for up to 18 sports. The state is divided into 11 regions, and Region C covers Western Cook, Kendall, Dupage, and Kane counties. There are 18 different sports the organization hosts competitions for, and athletes who receive first place in their sport on the regional level can advance to the state competition known as the Summer Games. 

Participants who gathered at Metea were eight and older and competed in a traditional program. 

(Music by Lastra)

Traditional programs are for athletes with disabilities; Special Olympics also offers a Unified aspect in which athletes with and without disabilities partner up and play together. A young athletes program is also available which supports athletes from ages two to seven for athletes with and without disabilities. 

For Illinois Special Olympics Region C Director Katelin Zandi, the regional swim meet is an opportunity for a wide range of athletes to participate together in a large community event.

“We might have an elementary school that’s competing, so they’re obviously only going to have that age limit within their team,” Zandi said. “Then we have local special recreation associations, and those are like park districts for people with disabilities.” 

The first events in the competition are developmental races. Athletes that might need assistance in the water or a flotation device participate in developmental races. Athletes participate in Race 2 following the developmental races. 

“[Race 2] is when they [start] some of the longer races like 100 meter freestyle, 50 meter fly, and then we [start] our 25 meter freestyle. And then from there, it’ll just keep going like 50 meter freestyle, 50 backstroke, 25 backstroke. Then we have relays at the very end.” Pehlke said.

Swimmers spend many hours preparing for the competition. Athletes must learn to work together as a team, share the pool, and cooperate with one another.

Deaf and hard of hearing teacher Kathy Craig is the athletic director for Special Olympics at Hinsdale South High School and applauds her athletes for their commitment to swimming. 

 “We have events every week, we practice every twice a week and we attend meets and games at different schools in the DuPage County area,” Craig said. “It’s inspiring seeing athletes being able to do what they love, push themselves, being able to compete, showing what they’re good at, and their talents.” 

Athletes look forward to these competitions and work incredibly hard. They train for around eight weeks leading up to the event. The Special Olympics gives athletes the opportunity to showcase their talents and abilities to their friends and family. 

Hinsdale Transition Center senior Charlie Nilles looks forward to his continued participation in swim meets. 

“I enjoy swimming because my brother swam at a young age. In order for me to still be better at swimming, I compete and practice every single day.” Nilles said. 

Zandi applauds Metea Valley’s commitment to unifying students and coming together as a community. 

“Metea Valley is awesome. They have been hosting this event for years, pretty much run the event from top to bottom. I think we have over 100 volunteers here today from Metea Valley.” Zandi said. 

PE leaders, Peer Partners, girls soccer team, swimmers and diver, and waterpolo team helped run the event by volunteering. 

“I’m just really proud of our Metea community, because they’ve been so accepting of having the swim meet here and really embracing it and wanting it back every year,” Pehlke said. 

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