The Special Olympics Virginia 2014 Summer Games were held in Richmond on June 6 – 8 this year. The swimming competition provided one or our Athletes and his family a very special time. The usual schedule of events this year was altered from the preliminaries on Friday and racing on Saturday, to races on both Friday and Saturday. Although the events of Friday ran longer than what SOVA expected, and arriving on time for opening ceremonies that night was a concern for all coaches, it had its purpose. This purpose was to shorten the event time for Saturday, opening a nice amount of time for all swimming Athletes to be able to attend Olympic Town as well as participate in the Healthy Athletes Program. This was the first time in a very long time that Matthew Annechini’s mom was able to take him to these offerings.
For Susan Annechini, a parent who has worked with Mat one-on-one for 15 years in the swimming pool, Mat’s performance in the pool this time around was truly a joyous accomplishment. Since his start in 1999, Susan has had the pleasure of watching one of his peers Peter Zaino, an accomplished SOVA swimmer; perform the most beautiful butterfly stroke. She always thought how wonderful it would be to see Mat do the same. Due to Mat being blind and unable to put his head underwater in order to keep his ears from filling up with water, and his not being able to hear at all, the mechanics of a “pretty” butterfly have eluded him.
Up until this year, Mat has required his mother to swim in front of him clicking a sound device in order to get him from the start wall to the finish wall of a race. He has struggled for years keeping the technical aspects of the stroke together in order to not be disqualified. This year Mat and his mom worked on a technique that would possibly allow Mat to swim the butterfly in competition independently. This “way” has never been seen in the SOVA arena before, and they were taking a chance on using it the games this year.
At the games this year, Mat raced side by side with Peter in the butterfly. Not only did he swim side by side with Peter, but completed the race without any sound assistance. Not only did Mat accomplish swimming the race independently, he executed the most beautiful butterfly stroke she has ever seen him swim, EVER! As Mat touched the wall the tears started. When awards were presented to Mat and Peter, they stood side by side, arm in arm, smiling with the true sense of the Special Olympic Spirit.
So if you see Mat out there swimming in a meet, congratulate him for all the hard work he has put in and a job well done! Mat’s efforts and those of his mom embody what Special Olympics is all about. As a side note, Mat also plays basketball with his Chesterfield team each year, with the assistance of his mom as needed. Without Special Olympics and a dedicated mom, Mat would miss the opportunity to compete in athletic events and become part of a team that provides him with support and friendship. We love being a part of Special Olympics!