Special Olympics starts on the Vineyard with a splash

Special Olympics swim team members pose next to the YMCA pool, (front row, from left) Caitlin Houghton, Grace Carroll, and Andres Sanchez. Second row, left is Caitlin's sister, Molly, a volunteer in the water and coach Jennifer Cleary. — Photo courtesy of YMCA of M.V.

The first Martha’s Vineyard Special Olympics (MVSO) program began last week, with aquatics training for Special Olympic athletes and swim practice for the first MVSO swim team at the YMCA.

There are 15 athletes in the program and room for more. Practices are three times a week at the YMCA, and athletes may attend one or more. There is no charge to the athletes for the program, and they do not have to be members of the Y. The team is open to anyone with a developmental or physical disability, age eight or over.

The Special Olympics program began after Jill Robie, executive director of the YMCA, attended an informational meeting with CJ Rivard, the Special Olympics coordinator for the Vineyard, in November. Martha’s Vineyard Community Services convened the meeting. Ms. Robie was quick to offer the Y’s support. YMCA aquatics director Kelly McBride was enthusiastic, and volunteer swim team coaches, Jen Cleary and Robin Tuck, joined up. A goal of the program is to have a few special olympic athletes ready to compete at the Massachusetts South Sectional Aquatics Assessments at Bridgewater State University at the end of April.

Ms. McBride said they have not yet scheduled any competitions off Island. “We plan to have our on-Island meet in late May or early June. That will be our one big swim meet. We will plug in our scoreboard and make a big day of it.”

She said the meet will be the culmination of the spring season. The Seven Hills Foundation has helped with the transportation of some of the adult athletes to the practices. Seven Hills is a Southeastern New England group whose goal “is to promote and encourage the empowerment of people with significant challenges,” according to their website.

The MVSO program plans to launch several other sports and training experiences for athletes. Rising Tide, an equestrian center on Martha’s Vineyard that offers therapeutic horsemanship, is already on board researching ways to join the MVSO effort with equestrian Special Olympic competitions.

“We only need one interested athlete and one coach to create a Special Olympics program,” Ms. Rivard said in a press release. “Now that there is an awareness of Special Olympics on the Island, we are hoping to identify more athletes and the sports programs that they would like to pursue.” MVSO is looking for more community partners who have physical or other resources in place that can help make the athletes’ dreams a reality.

For the future, the Martha’s Vineyard Special Olympics program aims at a unified sports program that joins Special Olympic athletes with non-disabled peers on integrated sports teams, as well as a young athletes’ program that targets motor skill development in 2- to 7-year-olds.

“Any child or adult with an intellectual or developmental disability is welcome to join the local Special Olympics program as an athlete,” Ms. Rivard said. “We are also looking for unified partners, coaches, and organizers.” She said that athletes may begin to practice with a team at age six and compete at age eight, and there is no upper age limit for participation.

Ms. McBride said it is not too late to get involved with the aquatics program. Interested athletes, family members, and volunteers should call Kelly McBride at the YMCA 508-696-7171, ext.115, email kmcbride@ymcamv.org.

Anyone interested in information on other Special Olympics programs, or in volunteering time or other resources, may call CJ Rivard at 508-627-1844, email cjrivard4@gmail.com.