Swimmer Inspires Through Special Olympics

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On July 25, the Special Olympics World Games opening ceremony will take place in Los Angeles. It kicks off the world’s largest sporting and humanitarian event of the year. The games will run until August 2, with 7,000 athletes and 3,000 coaches in attendance. 

More than half a million spectators are expected to watch competitions in 32 Olympic-style events. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are honorary co-chairs of the World Games, with Mrs. Obama planning to attend the opening ceremony. 

There will be even more people following the Games from home, including my friend — and Special Olympics athlete — Jeremiah, who has autism.

Jeremiah doesn’t allow his autism to hold him back. 

At 13, Jeremiah has already felt what it is like to win a gold medal. He is an accomplished swimmer who has competed in the Special Olympics since he was 8. (He also competes in bowling through the organization.) His favorite event is freestyle, and he has won more than 24 medals and nine ribbons ranging from gold to eighth place since beginning his swimming career. 

When he is swimming in a competition, Jeremiah says he is thinking about winning his race. He says he looks for the wall and the finish line and imagines speeding like a fish. 

“When Jeremiah was younger, some of the doctors said he would not be able to talk, let alone be who he is today,” says his father, James. 

Jeremiah is a rising eighth grader at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Valparaiso, Indiana. He is always smiling and has a great personality. He inspires people to be happy and accepting of each other. Jeremiah sets a good example for his classmates every day, and he refuses to let autism stop him from reaching his goals. He is even on the track team at school. Students love him for who he is and embrace him with open arms. 

Family, friends, and others who care about Special Olympians can offer support by being on a unified team with them. Jeremiah sometimes swims on a team with his brothers, Jeshua, 11, and Jamie, 15. 

“We swim with him to support him. Seeing him have so much fun is great. We can all unite when we are in the water,” Jamie says with a smile.

His brothers are always there to support him and cheer him on, and they call themselves the Real Splash Brothers, an allusion to the nickname for Golden State Warriors Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Jeshua’s favorite part about watching Jeremiah swim is when he sees his older brother speeding past competitors. Jamie and Jeshua beamed with pride as they talked about their brother and how Special Olympics has positively impacted him. 

Jeremiah’s coach, 84-year-old Lorrie Woycik, has been coaching since 1969. She remembers the first Special Olympics, held at Soldier Field in Chicago in 1968, with 1,000 athletes participating. “This was the first time our kids had a chance to do things like everyone else,” she recalls. “The country was excited.” 

Woycik believes that Special Olympics sports programs have opened up doors for those who had doors closed on them their whole lives.

She saw that first hand with Jeremiah. “The first time he competed and got out of the water, he was thrilled with himself,” Woycik remembers. “It made me so happy.” She knows that Jeremiah has a competitive edge because he doesn’t want to be mediocre and he wants to win. 

The Special Olympics World Games will be filled with passionate athletes like Jeremiah striving to achieve their goals while teaching the world about acceptance and perseverance. 

“Special Olympics is about more than just Jeremiah,” says his mom, Tayell. “It’s about everybody. It affects so many lives.”

Be sure to follow the Games this summer and check back here for updates from Kid Reporter Isabel Gomez, who will be attending several events. 

Photos: Tayell Leftridge

special olympics swimming
special olympics swimming