On Friday, May 4, the William Smith swimming and diving team hosted the final home event of the 2011-12 academic year. The Herons welcomed about two dozen area kids to participate in the third annual Special Olympics & Friends swimming meet in Bristol Pool.
A few years ago, William Smith Assistant Swimming Coach Kirsten Burrall was asked to coach the Geneva Gators Special Olympics swim team. As the team prepared for its first regional meet, Burrall realized many of the kids weren’t ready for the change in environment from practice to competition. She approached Heron Head Coach Kelly Kisner about hosting a “relaxed” meet in Bristol Pool to give the Gators their first taste of competition ahead of the regional meet.
Without hesitation, Kisner agreed and a tradition was born. Several Heron swimmers have taken the initiative to become certified Special Olympics swimming coaches, including senior Caitlin O’Brien and junior Casey Sherwin. The meet began with just a handful of participants, but has grown to nearly 20 swimmers this season.
The mission of Special Olympics is to create a better world by fostering the acceptance and inclusion of all people through the power of sports. If the smiles on the faces of the participants, coaches and parents are any indication, William Smith’s Special Olympics & Friends meet is doing just that.
“There’s nothing better than seeing one of the little ones make it to the other end of the pool unassisted, or watch the more practiced kids really get in the racing mindset and put their whole heart into a race,” O’Brien said. “It’s a nice showcase of everyone’s improvement, and I think it is really rewarding for the swimmers, coaches and parents.”
Sherwin, who volunteered with Special Olympics in high school, became a certified coach as a first-year and has worked with the Gators in each of her three years on campus.
“My favorite part is seeing the improvement of every single swimmer,” Sherwin said. “I’ve been working with some of these kids for the past three years, and to see how they’re improving, in and out of the pool, is really, really rewarding and special. Some of our swimmers couldn’t even hold themselves up in the water and now they’re swimming 50 yards of freestyle with no help. Others would pay no attention to us, and now they are teaching other swimmers while in practice. It’s incredible.”
Sherwin is one of three Heron swimmers with coaching certification, who will return to campus in 2012-13. She’s already looking forward to reprising her coaching role.
“We absolutely will be hosting another meet again next year.”