Tuesday, Thursday and even Saturdays, this amazing group of Olympic athletes trains at the Cut Off Youth Center. They’re in the pool, swimming laps, practicing their strokes and taking direction from their coaches.
These young athletes are preparing for a grueling three-day competition in Lafayette. It’s the state meet, which is held three times per year. This is the first state event that Lafourche Parish will be competing with its own Special Olympics team. Lafourche is the 56th out of Louisiana’s 64 parishes competing!
It began on August 7th at 6 p.m. when a group of parents, athletes and volunteers gathered at the COYC to develop a Lafourche Parish Special Olympics Team. Their meeting was successful – nearly 50 people attended, formed a committee, schedules and teams. Fast forward a week-and-a-half to August 12th, the first practice for the new Lafourche Parish Team, and they haven’t stopped practicing since! These young swimmers are preparing for their first state Special Olympics, the State Fall Classic, held October 17-19 in Lafayette at Pelican Park.
The sports are divided up into three chunks that athletes can compete, but participation is limited to only one sport, per athlete, per grouping. The first sports on the list: swimming, horse shoes and softball. These 19 aspiring Special Olympic Athletes are in the water working on their strokes, times and techniques for winning. Like all future Olympians, these athletes are focused.
Lauren is a prime example of how dedicated and committed these young athletes can be. Mother, Paula Dufrene explains: “This is Lauren’s second year with Special Olympics Louisiana (SOLA). She started with a limited set of swimming skills and suffers from severe seizures,” she says. “She swims now without her swim belt and even walks off the diving board,” she added.
“It’s great as a parent too see a child participate and just have fun,” says Dufrene. “To see her excited about something…is just awesome!”
These events do more than develop an athlete’s abilities in the pool. Melisa Adams has seen her son grow as an athlete and more importantly, as a person since becoming a part of SOLA nine years ago.
“The athletes have so much joy, not just for their sport,” she says. “There are no selfish part’s of these kids,” she added. “They cheer for their team mates in other competitions in all the events. They really learn team skills, group dynamics, sportsmanship and so much more,” she added.
This sentiment is echoed by Dolly Tauzin, who lives in Matthews. Her son Luke is a first-time member of the Lafourche Team. For the past nine years he has been competing with the Terrebonne Team.
“We can learn something from these kids,” says Tauzin. “We’re the ones with disabilities. These kids are as pure as they come,” she added. “The lessons they learn from being around others and competing…these kids need to know it’s so wonderful for them,” she added.
Casey Minton, Director of Internal Communication and Marketing with SOLA knows about the opportunities for personal growth that exists with Special Olympics. The benefits to a parish with their own team are numerous.
“Increased participation, exposure and participation in new sports, but more importantly leadership opportunities, personal growth and pride,” says Minton. “Athletes also receive assistance from the state and area programs to ensure they receive appropriate training and guidelines to offer a quality program,” she added.
All of these benefits are now available to our athletes here, in our parish, without loosing them to neighboring parishes’ teams. But why having our own, Lafourche Team, matters?
“Development of a team in Lafourche leads to development of athlete activities and events, which leads to athlete development! Our athletes become more self-confident and have the courage to become leaders in our organization as a result,” says Minton.
From the first organizational meeting on August 7th to the approaching first state Special Olympics which will be held in mid-October, Team Lafourche would not be there without volunteers. It’s due in part to the team of volunteers – the parents and coaches that makes SOLA possible. Paula Dufrene credits Coach Megan Danos for the advance her daughter Lauren has made in the pool.
“Megan worked with Lauren at swim meats and really helped her to advance,” says Dufrene. “When I asked Lauren if she wanted to compete this year in swimming on a Lafourche team, the first thing she asked is if Megan was going to coach her,” she said.
Megan Danos is a phenom. She works two jobs, coaches the COYC Hurricane swim team, serves on the COYC Board and still finds time to help out anywhere she can.
“I had some time between summer swim league and thought ‘why not start a new sport?’,” she says. “This opportunity gives these athletes the ability to learn new sports skills while improving performance all while participating as individuals and as a team,” she said. “Besides, participants build lasting friendships and the kids have fun,” she added.
Pat Carpenter Bourgeois, President and CEO of SOLA certainly has seen the valuable contributions volunteers provide.
“It is inspiring, for those of us who have longevity in Special Olympics, to see new enthusiastic volunteers who wish to give their time at a local level to offer athletes more opportunities. They have seen the growth of athletes who participate on a limited basis and want to strive to see each athlete become all they can be through Special Olympics.” says Bourgeois.
If anyone would like to contribute to Special Olympics Louisiana or to become a volunteer with the Lafourche Team, please call -1-800-345-6644 or visit laso.org.
Posted on Fri, October 10, 2014
by Marc Kimball, Contributing Writer