MINT HILL – Erin Gilmore has enjoyed participating in Special Olympics sports for nearly 15 years. She’ll take her athletic skills to a whole new level this summer as she travels to Princeton, N.J., to represent North Carolina in the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games.
Gilmore, who lives on the border of Mint Hill and Midland, will join 44 other North Carolina swimmers in Princeton in mid-June as part of SO Team NC, where she’ll compete in the 100-meter freestyle, 4-by-50 medley relay, 50-meter backstroke and 50-meter butterfly. She’ll also have the chance to meet hundreds of other athletes from across the United States, sightsee, learn about health and more.
Gilmore, 37, became involved in the Special Olympics circa 1999, when she began bowling with the organization. Having grown up loving swimming, Gilmore also decided to start swimming with the Special Olympics a year or two later.
“When I was younger, I used to be on a neighborhood swim team … (but) due to weather conditions, we could only do it in the summer. We couldn’t do it in the winter,” Gilmore said.
Special Olympics swimming gave Gilmore the opportunity to swim during some of the coldest months of the year, as the season runs from January to June. She also practices on her own at a local YMCA.
Gilmore and her family received a call several months ago regarding the Special Olympics USA Games. The family had just returned from a trip when they discovered a message on their home answering machine saying Gilmore had been selected to participate in the Games.
“At first, I didn’t even know what it was,” Gilmore admitted. “I learned a little bit about what nationals were and … then was very excited.”
Gilmore began training with swim coach Amy Clark in February. Clark is a physical education expert who has experience teaching adapted aquatics and works for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools as an adapted physical education teacher. Gilmore and Clark have been working together each Wednesday evening on improving Gilmore’s skills, particularly her endurance and flip-turn technique.
“This has been an incredible journey,” Clark, who also works with other SO Team NC athletes, said. “It’s been so much fun getting to know not just the athletes but their families, and to share the enthusiasm they have with their children … The greatest thing about Special Olympics is it’s a very open and understanding sport. Everybody helps everybody out and supports one another.”
Gilmore will depart for Princeton on June 14 via a private jet, provided courtesy of a Special Olympics sponsor. When she’s not competing, Gilmore will join other athletes for a plethora of activities that will include attending a baseball game, a dinner cruise along the Hudson River and past the Statue of Liberty, an Olympictown festival, a workshop on healthy living and more.
“We really are so, so proud of her,” Gilmore’s mom, Barbara, said. “This has been a whole lot of fun.”
Gilmore said she’s grateful for Special Olympics and how the organization has given her the opportunity to socialize and meet other athletes – something she said drives her to continue participating in Special Olympics sports each year. It’s also encouraged her to continue exercising and avoid becoming a “couch potato,” and has taught her perseverance and determination.
“In terms of Special Olympics swimming, you can’t do it partway,” Gilmore said. “You commit yourself to stay fit; that’s the way I look at it.”