By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Long-time USA Swimming corporate partner Phillips 66 has been a sponsor since 1973 and involved in the sport overall for seven decades. Today, Phillips 66 believes they can improve lives through energy, and in that spirit, usaswimming.org is highlighting swimmers of all levels who have benefited from Phillips 66's contribution and chosen to give back to the sport of swimming or to their community.
Swimming has always been a part of Christina Shebat’s family – first with daughter, Lindsay, who started swimming years ago for KATY Aquatics outside of Houston, and now with son, Jake, who has been swimming in KATY’s Learn to Swim program for a little more than a year.
Jake’s impact upon his KATY teammates has been quite profound in his short time with the team – so profound, in fact, that watching him swim through the limitations of Down syndrome prompted his teammates to volunteer last month and again this month for Special Olympics meets.
“It was important to us that Jake learns to swim and be successful in the water,” Christina said. “He’s not a competitive member of the KATY swim club, but he’s part of the developmental group that is learning to swim for fun and for safety reasons, and he loves it. He watched Lindsay swim for many years at meets, and now he’s getting his chance to learn, compete and have fun.”
Along with being a member of the KATY Aquatics Swim Club, Jake swims for the Katy Wolf Pack Special Olympics team, which not only promotes learning swim and safety skills but also self-esteem and friendships. The Katy Wolf Pack team is directed by a group of special education teachers, including head coach Don Wolf.
This past September, KATY Aquatics had over 20 swimmers and family members volunteer at the Special Olympics Texas Aquatics Gulf Coast Area Aquatics Meet in Sugar Land as well as the Greater Houston Aquatics Meet earlier this month.
KATY swimmers volunteered as officials, timers and athlete escorts for the September meet as well as at the Greater Houston Aquatics Meet earlier this month. Some volunteers even had the honor and privilege of awarding medals to the winners – including Jake, who won gold and silver medals at the October meet.
It’s a part of KATY’s ongoing effort to encourage its athletes to give back by working with this and other organizations in the community – Special Olympics, in particular, because of Jake and other local families. It also reinforces KATY’s mission to provide "a world class swimming environment and resources for all swimmers to develop their potential as athletes and as individuals.”
“Our KATY swimmers had the opportunity to see excitement and pride among all the participating athletes as each of them competed with heart in their races,” said Beth Ramsey, who coordinated the event for KATY. “All of the families who volunteered enjoyed the privilege of working with the athletes and cheering them on during their events.”
Having participated each November and December in a toy drive as well as a food drive in February for the local Katy Christian Ministry, giving back isn’t a new thing for KATY Aquatic swimmers – and Ramsey said the team would like to make volunteering for Special Olympics meets a regular event each year, as well.
“It was a truly rewarding experience to give our time as a club to a great organization and see our young KATY swimmers and the Special Olympics athletes share a common bond through the sport of swimming,” Ramsey said. “We are hoping to have even a larger presence of KATY swimmers and their families participate in many future swimming events hosted by Special Olympics Texas.”
Christina said while it was rewarding to watch Jake excel and learn more about swimming, she really enjoyed watching a strong bond form between KATY swimmers and the Special Olympics athletes they interacted with during the meets.
“They connected on such a great level because both groups love swimming and it showed,” Christina said. “It’s terrific to see the swimmers becoming more comfortable working with Special Olympic athletes and realizing they all want to succeed no matter what level they may be competing at.”
The Gulf Coast Area of Special Olympics Texas provides a wide variety of year-round sports training and athletic competition to over 1,700 athletes in six counties. Special Olympics Texas offers children and adults the opportunity to develop physical fitness and enjoy the experience of competing with other Special Olympics athletes in our community.
The Gulf Coast Area of Special Olympics is always in need of volunteers to help run all of their sport competitions. Please visit www.sotx.org for more information on Special Olympics Texas and the many ways you can volunteer.