Ashley Fordem, Jessica Chasteen, Daniel “Danny” O’Rourke and Augustin Cabral just wrote themselves into the history books by being the first athletes from the Taos Special Olympics team to participate in a swim meet. As current students of the Taos Tiger Sharks swim team, the fabulous four traveled to the Larry Walkup Aquatics Center in Los Alamos to be a part of a gathering of athletes from Santa Fe and Los Alamos July 16.
A total of 26 swimmers huddled together inside the misty throes of the behemoth aquatics center and began the day with the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by the Special Olympics pledge that reads, “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” Then it was time for the members of the Tiger Sharks to put on their orange swim caps and get into the pool.
The swim meet was the culmination of a year’s worth of hard work and training. Currently, there are 15 participants in the weekly swimming lessons that take place for one hour a week at the Taos Youth and Family Center.
The swim lessons were in response to the tragic loss of James “Jamo” Brown, who died in a drowning accident in February of 2016. Brown was a well-known Special Olympics athlete who was one of the first participants on the newly formed Peñasco team. Brown was an endurance athlete and was accomplished in the 1,500-meter run.
“The program began as a recognition by pool officials that the need to learn how to swim – to be safe in the water – applies to everyone,” said coach Alfredo Aleman, who heads the Taos Tiger Shark swim club and the Taos High School swim team. “This program is free to the members of our community who have special needs and want to learn this life skill.”
“This is a true example of a Taos success story,” said Brian Greer, director of the Taos Youth and Family Center, alluding to the time and energy spent by the dedicated athletes and staff who are a part of the program. “It’s amazing how far these athletes have come in such a short time.”
Special Olympics coaches include: Gretta Brown (head coach), Jennifer Martinez (head coach), Kendra Risinger, Sara Newberry and Kori Mannon. All the coaches and staff volunteer their time and work directly with the swimmers in the water.
Fordem, Chasteen, Cabral and O’Rourke performed exceptionally well and exceeded expectations on this day. “It’s amazing how fast these swimmers are,” gloated Aleman. “I can hardly wait for the state meet.”
Though each event was competitive in nature and timed, races that began with butterflies in the stomach always ended with smiles – behemoth smiles on both swimmers and spectators.