“It feels real, real good.”

David Frohme couldn’t contain his excitement as the Payson Special Olympian celebrated the return of swimming practice and competition.

Special Olympics canceled in-person practices and competitions because of COVID-19. But swimming and bocce athletes were welcomed back last month.

“It was pretty boring,” said Amber Baca of the virtual activities she and her Special Olympics teammates were limited to for months.

“I’m so happy,” Baca said during a break in bocce practice at Rumsey Park. “I missed my swimming and bocce so much. I missed the exercise and being with my friends. It’s just not the same virtually. It was OK for the situation, but I would rather be out and about.”

Payson is installing a new bocce court next to the tennis courts at Rumsey Park. For now, these athletes practice at the old court not far from the site of the new courts.

And they aren’t complaining about the wait because they’re just happy to have the chance to play bocce with their friends.

“They’re just so excited to be back together,” said first year Payson Special Olympics bocce coach Ruby Lane. “It’s great that they’re back together and can do stuff together.”

Frohme said the virtual activities helped him get through until they were allowed to get back together.

“Believe it or not, throughout the whole pandemic, I just had an upbeat attitude because I did everything virtually,” Frohme said. “I just looked at my pictures of all my Special Olympics friends and my other friends and I just said, ‘Wow, look at that picture. That is cool.’ And I talked to friends on the phone.”

His enthusiasm is infectious.

“I love life,” he declared during a break in coach Becky Derwort’s swim practice at Tonto Apache Pool. “I love sports. I love Special Olympics.”

He joined his swimming teammates in the area meet in Cottonwood on Sept. 11.

Frohme is planning to take part in the Over The Edge Special Olympics Rappel at Cityscape on December 4.

“This will be my fourth year,” he said. “The fourth year was supposed to be last year, but it was canceled because of COVID.”

But that will have to wait until after he gets out of the pool. The state swim and bocce meets are both scheduled for next month at different venues in Peoria.

Becky Derwort is back as the swim coach and says she’s as happy as the athletes to be back in the pool.

They’ve been cleared to return to practice and competition with safety protocols in place, but COVID-19 concerns remain.

“We had an athlete that got COVID when we first started,” Lane said. “Our first swim practice and first bocce practice we had an athlete that got COVID. Our first practice I think we had like 12 people out here, but we had parents that pulled their kids because they were concerned about them getting COVID. We have six that are going to the area meet on September 25th in Camp Verde.”

Frohme is one of a dozen Payson Special Olympics athletes looking forward to the state swim meet.

The area swim meet at the Cottonwood Aquatic Center finished three hours earlier than usual because only 12 Payson athletes and eight from Flagstaff competed, as many parents remain concerned about COVID-19. Only one volunteer showed up to help run the area swim meet at the Cottonwood Aquatic Center.

“Parents and coaches jumped in to help as judges and timers and Payson’s own Deanna Wright gifted awards,” said Lucy Karrys, a parent of a special needs athlete who has been involved in Payson Special Olympics for years. She, her husband George, and daughter Jacquelin, recently returned from their new residence in Mexico for two practices and the area swim meet. Jacquelin practices swimming daily in her new home with coaching from her parents. The family has started a Special Needs Family Support Group in Mexico City, which has a “huge and active Special Olympics group.”

“Our athletes are always great sports,” Karrys said. “They waited a year and more to get back to in-person swimming and bocce ball. In the meantime, day programs like Horizon and Gest have offered a variety of all-day healthy activities and entertainment. Parents have helped athletes participate on live zoom activities on Facebook and Arizona Special Olympics and in art classes. Their online activities continue and include music, dance, cooking, exercise, art, human relations, healthy athletes and more. Google or search for SOAZ on Facebook to hook up with virtual Special Olympics.

“As a parent of a special needs adult, I couldn’t be more proud of our athletes and their resilient attitudes.”

Frohme loved the trip to Cottonwood for the area swim meet. The Payson team celebrated winning many medals and ribbons with lunch at the Cottonwood Golden Dragon Chinese Buffet.

“The thing I missed really the most was the traveling with a big group,” he said of the pandemic shutdown. “And I missed all the fun of getting on the podium and just celebrating. But still, I celebrated life no matter what because you know what, life rocks and there’s just no stopping us.”

The athletes on the swim team include: Gary Bonn, Larry Graham, Liam Ingram, Reed Hunt, Tim Meeski, Michael Allison, Logan Wright, Mattie Thrower, Jonathan Varner, David Frohme, John Sexton and Jacquelin Karrys. The team is coached by Becky Derwort and volunteer assistant Willie Ingram.

The Bocce athletes are: Amber Baca, Shelly Orr, Todd Orr, Brandon Nicholson, Lindsey Brewer and Jaherr Smith. Carl Davis and Jacqueline Karrys have also practiced with the team but aren’t going to competition. Ruby Lane is the head coach and Liz Larson the assistant coach.

Bowling season is up next for area Special Olympians. Anyone interested in volunteering to help Payson Special Olympics can call Becky Derwort at 928-474-9142 or 928-968-3893.

Contact the reporter at kmorris@payson.com

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