Special Olympics swim program started by Rockford residents

High school students donate time, training

The SOAR coaches and some of the athletes have just finished a training session. “This is great way for kids to be able to help others learn to swim. They are also forming new friendships,” says Coach Alaina Smith.

Early last December, 15 local youths took time out of their busy holiday schedule to complete training to become certified swimming coaches for a new Rockford Special Olympics swim program. The students also followed that training with an intensive Water Safety Instructor course. The students’ efforts were all for a very special cause: the Special Olympics Aquatics of Rockford (SOAR).

Rockford residents Renee Kipke, Suelyn Ritsma and Terry Eudy have been working for months recruiting coaches, swimmers, scheduling and planning with the Special Olympics organization, all with the goal of making SOAR a reality. Rockford Recreation Coordinator Vic Villarreal has advocated the program and has secured pool time, as well as ensured there are lifeguards comfortable with the special requirements.

Special Olympics students begin training in the new SOAR water program coached by Rockford High School students. The athletes will be participating in the June regional competition at Calvin College.

For those who do not know, Special Olympics is the sports program for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Like all sports programs, Special Olympics develops fitness as well as confidence and social skills for athletes. Many individuals—with or without intellectual disabilities—will cite sports as a component to future success. The SOAR program will focus on winter and spring training in order to develop swimmers for the June Regional Games at Calvin College.

SOAR is fortunate to be able to take advantage of the existing talent found in the community. Most of the coaches for SOAR are Rockford High School students who participate in the Riptide Swim Club. These competitive athletes have experience coaching in the Junior Riptide program and volunteered to offer their time and skills for the benefit of the SOAR participants. Their prior experience will be a key factor in the program’s success—their comfort in providing instruction will allow them to focus on developing techniques for working with athletes who may learn differently.

“This is such a great opportunity for students to get involved in a program that can really change and strengthen the community,” said Coach Courtney Uselton.

The SOAR athletes and their parents are very excited about the new program. “All the swimmers are excited to get in the water and it is cool to see the student coaches volunteering their time—they really seem to work well with the kids,” said one parent. “We are lucky to live in such a great community.”

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