Special Olympics swim meet at Windham High School

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Region - posted Sun., Mar. 13, 2011
Brooke, accompanied by volunteers Mallory Coleman (left) and Nicole McBride, has a blast with the parachute. Photos by Melanie Savage.
Brooke, accompanied by volunteers Mallory Coleman (left) and Nicole McBride, has a blast with the parachute. Photos by Melanie Savage.

Little Brooke wasn’t too sure about the parachute in the gymnasium of Windham High School. At first she held back, clasping her hands nervously in front of her. But after a bit of encouragement from volunteers Mallory Coleman and Nicole McBride, the little girl hesitantly took hold of the giant piece of colorful fabric. Before long, Brooke was positively beaming as she helped others bounce beach balls across the parachute.

Brooke was one of the competitors at this year’s Windham Invitational Special Olympics Swim Meet, held for the 32nd year on March 12 at Windham High School. She hadn’t had a chance to swim yet, but the Invitational is about a lot more than just swimming. Special Olympics athletes come from all over to participate in the event. This year brought swimmers from Southbridge, Mass., Colchester, Enfield, New London, Plainfield and Windham. 

Athletes compete in traditional swimming events, such as freestyle, backstroke and butterfly, and receive medals for their efforts. But before and between events, there are a number of other activities to enjoy. There is a free lunch for athletes and coaches, provided this year by McDonald’s of Willimantic and Mansfield and other local businesses. There is also an arts and crafts area, and there is the main high school gymnasium, where it was difficult to tell whether the athletes or the volunteers were having more fun.

In addition to the parachute, there was bowling, volleyball and a number of other activities. A popular area was the impromptu dance floor in front of a live D.J. Enthusiastic members of the Quinebaug Valley Spirit Squad had a lot to do with encouraging others to take part in dances such as the Macarena and the Electric Slide. According to coach Kayli Wilcox, the group is comprised of Special Olympics athletes and volunteers. The squad has appeared at numerous events, including last year’s Windham Invitational.

Another enthusiastic dancer was Peter Fredette. Fredette wasn’t scheduled to compete in swimming, but came along to cheer on his friends and participate in other activities. “He just loves to dance,” said a volunteer. With his outgoing personality and infectious smile, Fredette helped draw both athletes and volunteers onto the dance floor.

“Volunteers come from all over,” said Mary DeMarco, a member of the Organizing Committee for the Windham Invitational Special Olympics Swim Meet. Many of the volunteers are students from Eastern Connecticut State University, as well as surrounding high schools, such as Lyman Memorial, Coventry, Parish Hill, Woodstock, Windham, and Marianapolis. “We had a huge, huge interest this year,” said DeMarco. “We actually had to turn people away. We don’t want people to come and have nothing to do, because then they don’t have fun.”

Judging by the atmosphere inside the gymnasium, that wasn’t a problem this year. With more than 400 volunteers and hundreds of athletes involved, the event seemed to run very smoothly. “It’s a great experience,” said DeMarco, “and everyone has a great time.”

If you‘d like information about becoming involved in a future Special Olympics event, contact DeMarco at maryswimmeet@gmail.com, or visit the event’s website at http://windhaminvitationalswimmeet.weebly.com/.

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