Saturday, June 8, 2019

Kai Swims at the Illinois Special Olympics

Kai's victory in the 100M freestyle at our region meet back in March qualified him to swim at the state championships of the Illinois Special Olympics. He would be swimming in the 100 and 200 meter freestyle events.

Having won at regionals, Kai was more excited to swim at state, but anxious as well. But he had several good weeks of practices and was bringing down his times quite frequently.

The State meet would be held in Bloomington-Normal, nearly a three-hour drive downstate from where we live north of Chicago. We went down on Friday afternoon, and after a relaxed time at the hotel pool where Kai practiced his flip turns, we went for dinner. We wanted Kai to have pasta, and settled on an Italian restaurant called Biaggi's, which apparently is a small chain found primarily in the Midwest. We didn't have high expectations for a restaurant in downstate Illinois, so we were pleasantly surprised when our dinner was very delicious.

My wife had scallop risotto, I had fettuccini with lobster, and Kai had rigatoni with Italian sausage. We all loved what we had and decided that we had to try one of their desserts. We decided on bomboloni which is a sugar-cinnamon Italian donut.

Wow, that was good, too! It was like a big-city meal with small town prices.

After dinner we went to see the Opening Ceremonies.

Kai didn't march in with the athletes but we enjoyed watching the ceremony from the stands. Besides the parade of athletes, they sang the national anthem, had the athletes take the oath, and even had stunt dogs for entertainment.

One of the parts I enjoyed the most was when the Olympic torches were brought into the stadium by Illinois law enforcement officers. Law enforcement officers had done a torch run all around the state leading up to this moment. Here, they did a lap around the stadium as the crowd lit up the stands with their cellphone flashlights.

The officers then passed the torch along to some of the athletes for the lighting of Olympic flame.

A fireworks show capped the evening.

We all enjoyed the ceremony and were glad we attended.

The next day would be the day for Kai to swim in his two races.

Warmups was at 8:00 AM.

It was crowded in the pool as many swimmers wanted to use the time to test the waters and warm up their muscles.

Kai would not race until mid morning so we watched some of his teammates swim their events, and all three of his teammates earned gold medals.

And then it was Kai's turn.

His first race was the 100M freestyle. His coach, James, seen below in blue, gave him last minute instructions and encouragement.

And then it was time to race.

Kai is in Lane 3, third from the bottom.

The boy in Lane 7 near the top jumped out to a big lead. As at the regional, Kai swam a strong second lap to close the gap, but this time couldn't quite overtake the leader. He placed second and won the silver medal. We were really happy with the way Kai swam and found out later that he had beaten his previous personal best time by a large margin.

Kai was awarded his medal by one of the law enforcement officers.

Here he is afterward with us.

We only had about an hour for his next race, the 200M freestyle.

While we had thought that Kai would have a good chance to place well in the 100M race he swam earlier, we knew that he would be hard pressed to medal in the 200M as two other swimmers had much faster qualifying times. One of these boys was his teammate, Conner, who won gold in this event a year ago.

Months ago, Conner was much faster than Kai, to the point that Coach James instituted a 'passing game' during practice. If Conner lapped Kai, then Conner would get a hot tub break while Kai had to do more laps. If Kai managed to hold off Conner from lapping him, then Kai would get the break. In recent weeks, Kai had improved to the point where the passing game no longer was feasible as Conner wouldn't be able to lap Kai, but he was still swimming faster than Kai. And so, we thought it would be good if Kai could somehow manage to stay close to Conner and win a bronze medal.

Kai swam in Lane 2, second from the bottom. Conner is right next to him in Lane 3. The next boy after Conner in Lane 4 was the overwhelming favorite. There is another faster swimmer up near the top in Lane 7, but he is in a different division so Kai and Conner are not competing against him.

From the start of the race, the boy in Lane 4 was clearly the fastest of the division and led the entire way. But Kai was managing to stay close to Conner in an attempt to finish second.

During the flip turn after the first lap, Kai took a slight lead on Conner. But then on the next turn, Conner took the lead back. The two were neck and neck for much of the race.

As our attention focused on what looked like a battle between Conner and Kai for second place, we hadn't noticed that up top in Lane 8, there was another boy who was right with these two. And after the last turn, that boy actually got into second place and stayed in second the entire length of the pool. We saw that Kai had taken about a body length lead over Conner, but was still behind the boy on the other end.

As with his exciting race at regionals, Kai had a great spurt at the end and only by stopping the video right at the finish could you see that Kai just out-touched the other boy for the silver medal. It wasn't gold, but it was Kai greatest swimming accomplishment!

You could see that Kai was very happy after the race as he waited for the medal ceremony. He knew that beating Conner was a great accomplishment.

He had won two silver medals at the State meet.

We were thrilled!

Afterward we went to lunch with the entire team, their families, and Coach James. Kai had a Chicago hot dog and he said it was the best meal he had in months. Ha!

I think he was relieved that his self-imposed stress was over, and that he had succeeded in a big way. We kept reminding him that he was able to accomplish this because of all the hard work he had put in.

And then we took one more team photo of the little team that had big accomplishments.

As Kai said, it was one of his best days ever.

Congrats to him and all members of the team!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...