Vineyard Special Olympians compete in first off-Island swim event

Vineyard Special Olympians compete in first off-Island swim event

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Vineyard Special Olympians and coaches who made the trip to Bridgewater State University. Back row from left: David Lambert, Kelly McBride, Tom Neadow, Andres Sanchez, Greg Marshall, C.J. Rivard Front row from left: Channing Hegerty, Nathan LeBlanc, and Amanda Kram — Photo courtesy of CJ Rivard

Martha’s Vineyard Special Olympians got the chance last Sunday to display their aquatic skills at an off-Island venue for the first time by competing in the South Sectional Massachusetts Special Olympics Aquatics Tournament at Bridgewater State University. More than 204 athletes from 15 teams in Southern Massachusetts took part.

The Vineyard was well represented by nine enthusiastic athletes; Mark Baird, Grace Carrol, Celeste Ewing, Channing Hegerty, Amanda Kram, David Lambert, Nathan LeBlanc, Greg Marshall, and Andres Sanchez, along with a bevy of volunteers and fans who travelled to cheer them on.

“It was a fun, but exhausting day for all of us, starting with travel on the 7 am boat,” program coordinator C.J. Rivard wrote in an email to The Times. “All of our athletes did an amazing job, seemed to enjoy the day, and everyone brought home medals.”

Ms. Rivard had additional praise for the program’s coaches and volunteers.

“The day couldn’t have happened without the year-round support of the YMCA and the efforts of all of our coaches and volunteers,” she said. “We were thrilled that our head coach, Kelly McBride, was able to lead the group that day. In addition, we are grateful to Tom Neadow, Wendy Lopez, and R.J. Cage from Seven Hills, who all volunteered their time and helped the day go smoothly.”

The event kicked off with the opening ceremonies highlighted by a parade involving all the athletes. Vineyard athletes Amanda Kram and Nathan LeBlanc represented all of their peers, carrying the Special Olympics torch.

Another highlight for many of the athletes was the picture taking session and autograph signings with Miss Massachusetts, Taylor Kinzler, who emceed the event.

The Martha’s Vineyard Special Olympic Aquatics Program started a little more than a year ago through the support of a partnership with the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard.

The program runs from October through June and involves 16 athletes, along with a number of volunteers and coaches. YMCA Aquatics Director Kelly McBride oversees the program, coaching the athletes one session per week. Additional Special Olympic training sessions are led during the week by coaches Jen Passafiume and Robin O’Callaghan.

The Bridgewater event was a big first step for the Martha’s Vineyard Special Olympics group, which is looking to expand its programming through 2013 and beyond. The group will be starting a unified sports basketball program in conjunction with the Martha’s Vineyard Boys and Girls Club this summer. The program partners Special Olympic athletes and typical athletes on teams together.

Plans are also in place for the athletes to participate in the Special Olympics equestrian competition this fall through a partnership with Rising Tide. Anyone interested in participating or volunteering is encouraged to contact Ms. Rivard at cjrivard4@gmail.com for more information.