Special Olympics athletes compete in state kayaking championship
By By Priscilla Loebenberg Times Staff Writer
Oct 06, 2013 | 3:00 AM
SYKESVILLE - Clear skies and gentle winds were asked for and granted on Saturday for the 89 athletes competing in the Special Olympics Maryland state kayaking championships at Piney Run Park. "Just being out on the water, being free - it's a wonderful feeling," said Erica Wheeler. "It's a dream come true." Wheeler had just come in second in the women's 500-meter race. Kayaking is only one of her passions. She is also a competitive skier, swimmer and soccer player. She is on the roster for a soccer team going to the national games in 2014. "Kayaking serves as a great example of what Special Olympics Maryland athletes are doing every day to exceed expectations and break the boundaries of what people believe they can and can't do," said Jim Schmutz, president and CEO of SOMD. Schmutz said the athletes have been training and competing all summer to prepare for the 100-, 200- and 500-meter championships. There was also a unified 500-meter race, in which special athletes with non-disabled partners competed in tandem kayaks. Racer George Radebaugh said he started kayaking in 2009 after he was diagnosed with diabetes. He was immediately hooked on the sport. He said kayaking is not only fun, but it also helped him lose a great deal of weight. "I love working and playing outdoors," he said. "And it's keeping me in shape." Radebaugh came in from the 500-meter race to the cheers of his friends from the Chesapeake Paddlers Association who were there to support him. Radebaugh has become an active member of the organization, often taking his boat on camping and kayaking trips. Maryland has the largest Special Olympics kayaking program in the country. More than 65 volunteers were on hand to help with the regatta, including volunteers from regional kayaking clubs and divers from the Gamber volunteer fire company. Although there is no national Special Olympics championship for kayaking, past SOMD athletes have gone on to the World Games. In 2011, SOMD sent two athletes to the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens, Greece. Anne Arundel kayaker Samantha DiSanti earned a gold medal in the 500-meter race tourist singles, and Ty Purnell, of Chestertown, earned a gold medal in the 200-meter race. The Special Olympics began in the 1960s when Eunice Kennedy Shriver (sister of President John F. Kennedy) started a day camp for people with mental disabilities. In 1968, Shriver organized the First International Special Olympics Games at Soldier Field in Chicago where 1,000 athletes from the United States and Canada competed in track and field events and aquatics. SOMD is a year-round sports organization dedicated to providing quality sports training and competition opportunities to Maryland's children and adults with intellectual disabilities and/or closely related developmental disabilities. SOMD serves thousands of athletes and offers 24 sports, all at no cost to the athletes or their families. For more information about SOMD, visit http://www.somd.org or call 410-242-1515 x 118.