Swim clinic dis­plays shapes, skills, abil­i­ties of every­one

Orlando Sentinel - - OPINION -

With so much cul­tural and so­ci­etal di­vi­sion in the world, it is truly a bless­ing and a priv­i­lege to wit­ness any event where peo­ple come to­gether for a com­mon pas­sion.

The Mac Crutch­field Foun­da­tion fur­thered its vi­sion of mak­ing com­pet­i­tive swim­ming en­joy­able and ac­ces­si­ble to every­one Satur­day in a very spe­cial way: It brought to­gether Spe­cial Olympics swim­mers of Cen­tral Florida and dec­o­rated Olympians Ryan Lochte and Caeleb Dres­sel for a swim clinic at Win­der­mere Prepara­tory School.

While many were awed by the tal­ents and gifts of these ath­letes in com­pe­ti­tion, I be­lieve that an even greater sight to be­hold was the sin­cer­ity and gen­uine­ness of Lochte and Dres­sel, as they in­ter­acted with these ath­letes of all shapes, skill lev­els and in­tel­lec­tual abil­i­ties.

These Olympic stars seemed as im­pressed with the Spe­cial Olympians as many Amer­i­cans were with them dur­ing the world­wide com­pe­ti­tion. And de­servedly so. While Lochte and Dres­sel spent their for­ma­tive years fo­cus­ing on their train­ing to be su­per ath­letes, the Spe­cial Olympians in­vested heart and soul into tran­scend­ing in­tel­lec­tual and de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties. It hasn’t been easy for them, but hav­ing done so made them even stronger and more de­ter­mined. They’ve chan­neled this de­ter­mi­na­tion into ex­celling in com­pe­ti­tion.

The Win­der­mere swim clinic hon­ored the mem­ory of Mac Crutch­field, who died in a drown­ing ac­ci­dent at age 12 de­spite be­ing an ac­com­plished swim­mer. The Mac Crutch­field Foun­da­tion was es­tab­lished in 2009 to con­tinue his love for the wa­ter by in­spir­ing every­one to swim.

Naysay­ers might call out su­per ath­letes’ and celebri­ties’ mo­tives when they con­trib­ute their time to phil­an­thropic causes, la­bel­ing them as pub­lic­ity stunts. How­ever, I feel that it is im­por­tant for those with a global plat­form — es­pe­cially Olympians — to step up and help. Their in­flu­ence is wide­spread, and they can leave in­deli­ble im­pres­sions that in­spire the masses, es­pe­cially young peo­ple.

As an ob­server at the event, I could see the en­ergy surge from all the Olympians who vol­un­teered their time to the young ath­letes with dis­abil­i­ties.

Most no­table was Dres­sel. His ath­letic stature pales in com­par­i­son to the ma­tu­rity and com­pas­sion he showed the young swim­mers, their par­ents and their sup­port­ers.

Celeste Sy­chterz — the Ath­letes With­out Lim­its swim­ming coach and mother of Team USA Par­a­lympic hope­ful Ian Soules — said of the event and the Olympians, “They [Dres­sel and Lochte] were sur­pris­ingly tal­ented with the kids … De­spite the fact that most of their time is spent with world-class ath­letes and train­ers, they were able to ef­fort­lessly teach the ath­letes at dif­fer­ent lev­els of de­vel­op­ment in ways that they would ab­sorb and re­mem­ber.

“See­ing Caeleb’s par­ents and Ryan’s wife and baby there says so much about their re­spec­tive char­ac­ters and the fact that they val­ued the ex­pe­ri­ence and were proud to be a part of it and share it with their fam­i­lies. It was more than a do­na­tion of re­sources to a cause — the gift was their time.”

Far too of­ten we find celebri­ties and ath­letes get­ting neg­a­tive main­stream press for their mis­takes and short­com­ings. We should con­sider high­light­ing and di­rect­ing our at­ten­tion to pos­i­tive and au­then­tic sto­ries such as Satur­day’s event.

Such in­spi­ra­tion can truly last a life­time.

Frank E. Bar­ber­ena, 21, is ma­jor­ing in hu­man com­mu­ni­ca­tion at the Univer­sity of Cen­tral Florida.

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