Local Special Olympians set sail in regatta in Charleston

Wed, 06/27/2007 - 8:00am
By: The Citizen

Special Olympics regatta

Five athletes from Fayette County Special Olympics recently braved the choppy waters of the Atlantic Ocean in a sailing regatta in Charleston, South Carolina. Seventy-six teams from Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina competed for medals and ribbons June 8-10.

The competition was the first time the Fayette County team had sailed on the open seas. They practice on Lake Tobesofkee in Macon, and they have attended several regional competitions held on the Gulf Coast.

However, this competition provided a new challenge for the athletes. “The currents were really strong,” said Shannon Waldrop. “I just had to concentrate on not freaking out.”
Conditions were so rough, in fact, that Sunday’s races were cancelled because of concerns for the athletes’ safety. “Sailing on the ocean is different than practicing on the lake,” said Debbie Parrish, Local Special Olympics Coordinator. “On the lake we just worry about the wind. On the ocean, we have to deal with the current and the wind, which makes it much more complicated.”

Although Parrish says that the sailboats sometimes do flip over, the safety of the athletes is always the first priority. All competitors must be strong swimmers and are required to wear life vests. And motor boats with emergency personnel are always standing by to fish them out of the water and help them upright their boat if necessary. Once upright, the team may go on to finish their race.
The competitors didn’t let the cancelled races dampen their enthusiasm. They attended a dance at the James Island Yacht Club and played volleyball on the beach until the award ceremony Sunday afternoon.

Awards were determined only by Saturday’s competition, in which each team completed two races. Shannon Waldrop and her unified partner, Steve Bonacci, earned a fifth-place ribbon in the event.

The rest of the pairs each earned sixth-place ribbons, including Buddy Croft and his partner, Ashley Maddox; Danielle Coholich and partner Jessica Maddox; Eddie Griffin and partner Cheryl LaPorte; and Dylan Starr and partner Rose Tucker.

In unified competitions, a disabled athlete is paired with a non-disabled partner. Each unified sailing partner must undergo training to become certified to sail with the Special Olympians. The teams sail 14-foot Hobie Cats, which are small two-person boats.
The unified partner handles the main sail and tiller, while the Special Olympian controls the smaller jib sail on the front of the boat. However, each unified partner must demonstrate the ability to “single-hand” the boat in the event that their Special Olympian is unable to assist.

The sailing program is one of the newest in Special Olympics, but is already growing. New volunteers and unified partners are always welcome.

The Fayette County sailing team participates in several fundraisers throughout the year to help finance their trips. They sell Chick-Fil-A calendars, help out at the semi-annual bake sale, and they recently participated in a fundraising event in conjunction with Belk’s Department Store. Their next trip will be the Southeastern Competition in Mobile, Alabama July 25-29.

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