Since November, the Boyertown Special Olympics Swim Team has been practicing weekly for the upcoming annual county-wide aquatics competition at Abington High School this April.The team is comprised of about 40 members who are between the ages of eight and 50 and show different swimming abilities in the water.
Practices are every Wednesday night from 6:45 to 7:30 p.m. in the heated pool at the Boyertown Area YMCA. While the YMCA is in Berks County, the team competes in Montgomery County each spring.
"Many members of our team start talking about the competition months in advance," said head coach Keith Schoenly.
The team formed in 1992 and for the past 10 years, Schoenly has led the team at practices and in competitions.
"Those who win medals often wear those medals days afterward to show off what they've accomplished," Schoenly said.
Some of the younger, new swimmers on the team benefit from volunteer assistance while in the pool.
The main volunteer base is made up of members of the Boyertown Kiwanis Club and the senior high school's Boyertown Key Club.
"Right now, we have around two dozen coaches and volunteers," Schoenly said. "We can always use additional coaches and volunteers, especially those with coaching, lifeguarding, or swim team experience."
"New swimmers work one-on-one with a coach to learn the basics of breathing and freestyle strokes," Schoenly said. "Once an athlete has mastered a single freestyle lap, they are often instructed on how to swim a second stroke."
"For swimmers at an intermediate level, we emphasize the importance of strong starts and finishes, quick turns, and efficient breathing," Schoenly said.
"The advanced swimmers work hard to try to improve their times," said Kathy Undercuffler, who has been a volunteer swim coach with this Special Olympics Team for 10 years and is the aquatic director at the YMCA.
"Some physically limited swimmers are only able to partially support themselves in water," Schoenly said. "In these cases, we simply encourage them in what they can do and assist them in the areas where they need help."
"The highlight of our practices is [that] at the end of each night, one athlete is chosen as the 'featured swimmer' who swims alone while everyone cheers them on," Schoenly said.
"It is so exciting and rewarding to me to be a part of this program and to watch the athletes compete," Undercuffler said.
At the county meet, members can compete in up to three different events. Aquatic races usually have five to six participants per heat, all within close age range and swimming ability.
Medals go to first, second, and third place winners, while fourth, fifth, and sixth place winners receive ribbons.
Some of the winners with the best times are invited to participate in the regional swim competition at Kutztown University in May, Schoenly said.
A select few from all across the state are then invited to compete in the Summer Games State Competition. This lasts for four days in June, taking place at Penn State University and involving a dozen sports.
"Last year, our team had two athletes selected to attend the state competition-Debby Buckwalter and Paul Wells," Schoenly said.
"This is basically my favorite sport," Wells said about swimming, having tried others but liking this game of exercise best.
Wells, who is 23 years old, said his best time in the 50 meter freestyle is 41 seconds.
Kim Corrigan, 25, started swimming at age four and said she likes how the sport helps to build up her muscles.
This opportunity with the Special Olympics is free to the community, for those who are eligible, because of the generous donations made to the YMCA's Golden Rule Scholarship Program by residents of Boyertown and surrounding areas.