For years, Sea Colony has been working with area Special Olympics Delaware athletes. Not only does Sea Colony help raise money for the organization through its annual Turkey Trot 5K Run & Walk but also by allowing local athletes to train at their facilities, free of charge.
Last year, when Sea Colony began their fitness center renovations, area Special Olympics athletes found another local gym in which to train during the interim. However, the other gym was not compatible, and the athletes returned to Sea Colony’s Edgewater facility.
“We went back to Sea Colony and asked, ‘Can we come back?’” recalled Marie McIntosh, one of the coaches for the area athletes of the Sussex Riptide. “They said, ‘No, no! Come back, it’s no problem!’ We ended up going back, and it’s just been wonderful. They accommodate our parents with a place for them to sit, and they’re friendly.
“I can’t tell you how accommodating they are. They welcome our athletes with open arms. They’re there to help with whatever we need.”
Seven athletes meet at Sea Colony every Thursday, for an hour, to train with four coaches.
“Next year, when their new fitness center opens, we’ll open it up to more athletes,” said McIntosh, who said the limited number of athletes was due to the smaller facility. “What they do is strength training. They lift lightweights, stretching, and work on their core.
“Some of our parents have remarked about how much stronger these athletes are now than they were last year. They can hit better tennis balls; they can bowl better. It’s remarkable the difference it’s made.”
Coach Tony Gough, who helped put together the training program for the athletes, said focusing on core muscle strength is extremely important.
“If improve your core, you improve everything you do. It’s not like a sports program… It just strengthens all their muscles and improves their coordination, so when they bowl or play tennis they have better coordination, better muscle power, better strength.”
Gough said strength training makes a huge difference not only physically, but mentally, too.
“The better you feel about your body, the better you feel about how you can execute a move,” he said. “If you feel confident that you can hit that ball, you’re going to do it better. If you’re confident you can run that race, you’ll do it better. It’s the confidence you get from knowing you’ve trained and knowing you can do it.”
McIntosh said she has been working with Jen Neal and David Griffith at Sea Colony, who help their athletes use the fitness center, tennis courts and swimming pools.
“They are just fabulous,” she praised.
Neal said having the athletes at Sea Colony has been a wonderful experience and builds on the recreational facility’s longstanding relationship with SODE.
“It’s just building a relationship with them to have good community outreach,” said Neal. “It’s great because we know them. We see them out and about, and when they come and are a part of our race, just getting to know them and their families. We don’t just get to know the athletes, we know their extended family, too.”
Although SODE team Sussex Riptide has approximately 300 athletes in all, approximately 30 live in the local area.
The mission of Special Olympics Delaware is to “provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for more than 4,000 children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.”
“It’s important to support them because it helps you to understand how to assist people in overcoming adversity when you yourself may not have to do so. You always think things may be bad, but someone has it worse.”
McIntosh said it is wonderful to work with area businesses such as Sea Colony, along with Bear Trap and the Delaware National Guard, who embrace the athletes.
“Sea Colony has been one of our staunchest supporters. They have always, always welcomed with us open arms when we’ve wanted to do something there,” she said. “I can’t tell you how gracious and welcoming they have been. And the National Guard has been the same. They’ve been just wonderful. The community at large has been just great with us.”