Seven Tri-City United Special Olympics swimmers advanced to the Summer State Games at the University of St. Thomas June 21-22. For this group of swimmers, competing at the state level is an entirely new experience.
“It’s awesome. It’s going to be really exciting for everyone,” said coach Melissa Bell.
“For a lot of these kids it’s the first time they’ve been able to be in a sport, so it’s opened a lot of doors for them.”
TCU Community Education began implementing the Special Olympics swim team in 2018, at which point the team competed only as far as the regional level. This year, two adult swimmers and five TCU students swam so well at the regional contest at Gustavus Adolphus College in March that they earned the right to compete at the state level.
Hope Ahlberg and Hannah Flicek are two adult swimmers who compete in a relay contest at the University of St. Thomas along with TCU students Anna Patock and Kevin Gonzalez. Ahlberg, Patock, Gonzalez, Jose Ruiz and Amelia Taaffe also compete in the 25-meter freestyle, and Flicek competes in the 50 meter freestyle. Joshua Steenhoven competes in the 15 meter assisted swim.
Ahlberg, a Le Center resident, said she’s always loved the water and took swimming lessons since she was 4 years old. At the state contest, she wants to move past being tired, do her best, and have fun.
“I did regions last year, but I’m more confident this year; less nervous,” said Ahlberg.
Jose Ruiz, 15, enjoys swimming in the Le Center pool and looks forward to competing on the Special Olympics floor hockey team this winter.
“It’s pretty easy for me [to swim],” said Ruiz. “I’m going to swim my best.”
Fourteen-year-old Amelia Taaffe described swimming as “kind of easy, but kind of hard” and wants to finish first in the 25-meter freestyle at the State Games. She enjoys being in the Special Olympics because it gives her new opportunities to compete and meet other swimmers.
Sixteen-year-old Anna Patock, of Lonsdale, remembers swimming when she was really little, but competing opens a new world for her.
“It feels really good,” said Patock. “It’s a good feeling to know I did well and continue doing well.”
Bell and two other coaches, Stacy Moser and Jamie Maluchnik, will attend the Summer State Games with the seven athletes.
“It’s just awesome watching them grow,” said Bell. “It’s cool to watch them be a part of something; it’s been fun.”