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Special Olympics Mecklenburg County Opening Ceremony and Spring Games Start Next Week

Photo credit: Special Olympics Mecklenburg County

Charlotte Country Day School (CCDS) hosts the Special Olympics Mecklenburg County Spring Games each year. Abigail Ilfeld, a CCDS student, wrote this story for her journalism class:

Swimming in the Spirit of Special Olympics
By Abigail Ilfeld

Special Olympics is a rite of passage for Charlotte Country Day students; every freshman, sophomore, and junior participates as a buddy, helping the athletes and encouraging them at events. Seniors are given special tasks to entertain athletes. Some students; however, get involved with the special needs community outside of school.
Anna Hawkins Dulaney is a senior at CCDS and has been coaching a special needs swim team for 2 years; getting involved after a recommendation from Kinga Zay that Anna Hawkins’ swimming skills could be helpful in another setting.
“I love helping kids discover things they could be passionate about,” she said.
Swimming is Anna Hawkins passion and every Sunday for about three months, she goes to the Harris YMCA and helps coach special needs kids and adults, teaching them competitive strokes and providing a helping hand for anyone who needs it.
She works two sessions: one for athletes age 8-20 and one for adults. In the younger athlete session, Anna Hawkins works in lane one, with the youngest kids 8-11 years old. One of her most memorable swimmers; however, is Casey, a 40-year-old athlete who is an excellent swimmer.
“She’s so happy-go-lucky. She’s always ready and she just really loves swimming and being in the water.”
Anna Hawkins plans to bring the new perspective coaching has given her to Sewanee this fall. She would love to continue helping the special needs community in college.
Caroline Foster is another senior who coaches swimming every Sunday at Mrs. Zay’s recommendation. Caroline has been working with the special needs community since before Junior year. She attended HUGS camp in Greensboro as a helper camper. Caroline and her camper Sarah communicated using Sarah’s keypad, and Caroline learned the best ways to help Sarah when she needed it.
HUGS camp and her volunteer work as swim coach have taught her about the importance of communication and adapting to be able to communicate with many different people.
“It’s really inspirational to watch them swim,” Caroline said.
Additionally, Caroline has gained a lot of respect for the families of the swimmers because she sees the hard work they do. Caroline’s favorite part of coaching is interacting with the swimmers and seeing them learn and grow.
Caroline plans to continue her work at the University of Virginia, where she has already looked into the clubs and programs for volunteering in the special needs community. Both Caroline and Anna Hawkins have swim experience themselves, but Brooks Riley, who is also a coach at the Harris YMCA, does not. She is not a soccer player either, but she coaches a soccer team for kids with special needs.
Brooks really got involved when her History teacher, Tad Daniel, encouraged her after Special Olympics her sophomore year. She emailed the Mecklenburg County Special Olympics coordinator to see if he needed any help, and he referred her to a position as a soccer coach. Brooks loves spending time with the kids, and she sees some of the same people at soccer and swimming.
“For me, it’s about the relationships,” Brooks said.
Brooks, Anna Hawkins, and Caroline will be witnessing the Opening Ceremony with the rest of the seniors next Monday for Special Olympics 2018. Continuing the tradition on Tuesday and Wednesday, CCDS will host the athletes, and students will help behind the scenes. Country Day encourages the public to attend and cheer on the athletes.

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