Last week, Special Olympics Delaware athletes from the former Mighty Marlins participated in a bike regatta through the Bear Trap community, in preparation for the upcoming Cycling Classic.
“We have been biking for seven years now, and we have done the biking regatta — which is a precursor to the competition — for the last five years,” explained Marie McIntosh, one of the coaches for the team.
Recently, Special Olympics Delaware had the state’s regional teams group together into county teams. Formerly known as the Mighty Marlins, a group of more than 30 athletes joined with other teams to form Sussex Riptide.
The cycling athletes will compete on Saturday, Sept. 14, at the Dover Air Force Base Museum. Cyclists can compete in races ranging from 500 meters to 20 kilometers, including tandems at certain distances.
“They love to compete,” said McIntosh. “And they proudly show off their medals when they get them. It’s a great thing. Bronze, silver or gold — it doesn’t really matter to them. Just competing and getting that medal… They love to compete.”
Although not all of the athletes compete in the Cycling Classic, most do participate in the bicycle regatta.
“They love it. Our athletes like being together. We all try to find things for them that they can do and enjoy, whether they compete or not. For example, we do tennis on Tuesday nights, and we don’t have anyone who competes in tennis, but it doesn’t matter. They just go to have a good time. The same with swimming — not everyone who goes competes. They come every Sunday to Bear Trap and just enjoy the activity.”
During the regatta, athletes were paired with volunteers and cycled from the Wallace A. Melson Municipal Building in Ocean View through Bear Trap and back, escorted by Ocean View police. Following the regatta, the athletes have a pizza party to celebrate.
“We asked Chief Ken McLaughlin if we could have a biking regatta and if we could use the multipurpose room for a party afterward, and he said yes. He’s always very gracious. He always provides us with police escorts. He’s wonderful.”
“I don’t even know where to begin,” said McLaughlin. “Special Olympics is one that has a unique relationship with the Delaware law-enforcement community. Our local athletes, in particular, have a longstanding relationship with the Ocean View police. It’s one of those things — it’s hard to put into words. We get more out of it than we give. We enjoy it. The officers love it. Over the years, we’ve formed friendships with all of the athletes and their families. We really enjoy it. It’s a great time.”
Athlete Jillian Calanna, 19, who will compete in Saturday’s race, also competes in bocce and bowling.
“Everyone is nice,” she said. “I get to make new pals. I like that.”
Jillian’s father, John, said his family moved to Delaware from New York seven years ago because of the services that are offered to those with special needs.
“One of the reasons we came down here was they have so much more for special-needs kids,” he said. “New York really didn’t have that much.”
McIntosh said she is currently hoping to start an equestrian program in the coastal Sussex area and is hoping to find a local stable with which they can partner.
“Our athletes would like to ride, and they’d like to learn that skill. I think it would be so phenomenal if they could do that,” she said. “I just want our athletes to have as many experiences that they can have in all things. If there’s a venue or a place, if there’s someone willing to work with us, that would be great.”
McIntosh is one of about 10 volunteers who work with the 30 area athletes. As a former swimming instructor and a special educator at Newark High School, she became involved in Special Olympics Delaware in 1976, without having a special-needs child of her own. Adam Rones, the coach of the team, also became involved in the program, without having a child participating.
McLaughlin said he hopes many other community members will follow their lead and volunteer to help the organization in any capacity that they can.
“These people are doing it out of the kindness of their hearts,” said McLaughlin. “It’s a no-brainer for the parents of special-needs children to be involved, but for the people who aren’t in that situation to step up and take an active role, that’s a good thing.”
For more information on Special Olympics Delaware, visit www.sode.org. Those who are interested in volunteering, offering services or equestrian training to the local athletes may contact Marie McIntosh at (302) 893-4214 or Mariemcintosh522@msn.com.