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Friday, July 31, 2015

Dedication Behind The Scenes, Out Of The Camera Angle

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

We counted over 40 officially accredited photographers and media personnel at the 1.5 km open water swim in Long Beach, California at the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games - and there may have been even more reporters and videographers conducting interviews and shooting film.

The attention paid to the athletes and competitions has been overwhelmingly - and deservedly - global and comprehensive. We have been to several FINA World Championships before and the media attention on the Special Olympics athletes far outweighs and outnumbers the articles and photos of the world championship athletes.

The intensity - and preparation - of both groups of athletes is nearly beyond comprehension. Daily, these athletes work to realize their dreams. They put in the work on dryland, in the pool, and in the open water.

But what also greatly impresses us is the dedication of the coaches in the Special Olympics who work behind the scenes. Without fanfare, these coaches spend the time, energy and patience to help these Special Olympics athletes not only in their swimming, but in various aspects of their lives.

Coaches like Penny McDowall who coaches athletes in the Cayman Islands. She has dedicated her life to providing much-needed vocational service and community outreach in her community. A teacher at the Lighthouse School on Grand Cayman, she has also selflessly coached Special Olympics athletes for over 20 years.

She was typically remarkable at yesterday's competition in dealing her athlete Andrew Smilley. The defending champion was narrowly defeated in the 1.5 ocean race; he led the race early and then swam shoulder-to-shoulder for the middle part of the race around the rectangular course, but then was passed by the eventual Dutch champion. After winning in the inaugural event in Greece in 2011, Smilley was clearly disappointed and perhaps even upset. But McDowall talked to him and got him to understand that he not only swam the fastest he has ever swum before, but he represented his community and his country with the grace and humility of a true champion.

McDowall has received the Special Olympics' Exemplary Coach Award for her passion, experience and dedication. "There are more than 250,000 Special Olympics coaches around the world. For Penny to win this international award, it is really something we cherish," explained Special Olympics Cayman Islands Board Director Maxine Everson.

McDowall herself is also an incredible individual - passionate, thoughtful and experienced - as she is one of only 40 coaches worldwide to receive the Special Olympics' Exemplary Coach Award.

Copyright © 2015 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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