Members of this year’s Payson Area Special Olympics Swim Team have dedicated this season to Stephani Weissert, a team member who passed away unexpectedly this spring.
Stephani swam on the team for as long as any of us can remember and memories of her are shared during every practice.
We cheer at the end of practice, sending love and acknowledgment to our team member whose joyful countenance and helping nature is indelibly branded into our hearts. Members of this dedicated team miss Stephani and will never forget her.
Special Olympics swimming starts when the Taylor Pool opens in June and ends the last week in October after two-and-a-half months of practices at the Tonto Apache Indoor Pool.
At each practice, athletes warm up with stretches led by coaches Mike McCannon, George Karrys or Special Olympics Athlete David Frohme. Water aerobics follows the stretches.
Then comes a warmup swim featuring their favorite strokes from freestyle to breaststroke, to butterfly to backstroke. Each athlete chooses two different stroke events and the relay medley that involves all four strokes. Distances range from 25, 50 and 100 meters.
Athletes choose their events with the help of coach Becky Derwort according to their endurance, ability and skill. After warmups, the training and races begin. They work over and over on kick training, start and finish training, breathing and swim skill training.
Derwort, the Payson Area Special Olympics director for the last 40 years, is the glue that holds the team together.
Mike and George run the races and skill training. Lucy Karrys is the safety coach and swims with the kids with a watchful eye on athletes who swim with the approval of doctors but despite many disabilities and health issues.
That’s what I mean when I say this team is dedicated. An athlete has difficulty walking and lifting an arm and still is a hard-working team member.
Athletes with memory issues and speech issues push through, as do athletes with controlled seizures and intellectual disabilities. We have one athlete who gets up at 2 a.m., is at work at 5 a.m. and never misses our afternoon practices.
Our team will come home from the area meet on September 7th in Cottonwood and the state meet October 23-26th in Goodyear with gold medals, silver, bronze and some with ribbons and you will never see a complainer.
“Let me win, but if I can not win, let me be brave in the attempt” is the Special Olympics Oath.
Go, Team Payson! You are a good-spirited lot. Stefani would be so proud of you.
Special Olympics features swimming, bocce, track, basketball, bowling and snowshoeing.
To volunteer or join a team, contact Becky Derwort at (928) 978-3893 or (928) 474-9142, or call (928) 478-0231 to join our support group.