They proudly refer to themselves as the Douglas County Killer Whales. Despite their nickname, however, members of the newly organized Special Olympics swim team are out having a whole lot of fun.
Just ask Richard Cannon, who serves as head coach for a swim team consisting of adults 20 years of age and older who have been practicing since March.
“It’s just been a wonderful experience,” said Cannon, who works as an aquatic supervisor at the Carson Valley Swim Center. “I’ve been overwhelmed by their enthusiasm and efforts. They’re teaching me and I’m coaching them, so we’re learning from each other at the same time.”
The swimmers meet for training sessions each Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Carson Valley Swim Center. They’ve shown a considerable amount of stamina and strength in the pool, Cannon said.
“They’re getting better all the time,” he pointed out during a recent workout session. “Today, we’re going to work on breaststroke.”
Being in its first year, Douglas County’s Special Olympics team is not eligible to compete in 2014, however, individual swimmers will race as part of the Carson City program at the Nevada Special Olympics Summer Games May 30-31 at the University of Nevada, Reno. Another event on their schedule is the regional swimming May 18 in Carson City.
“We cannot swim as a team, but they will go up so they can see what it’s all about,” said Tricia Smithen, who serves as president for the program’s board of directors. “They will be there to encourage and support the other swimmers and participants.”
Team members include Antonio Maresca, Megan Crandall, Heather Dreyer, Kyle Black, Mike Slivkoff, Alizabeth Garrison, Katie Patrick, Travis King and Curt Allen. For Crandall, the Northern Nevada Special Olympics will be part of her 29th birthday celebration.
The swimmers selected their nickname — Killer Whales — and Black contributed the artwork for the team’s logo.
“We asked if he could draw a picture of a killer whale and he did a great job,” Smithen said. “Kyle is very proud of what he did, and we’re very proud of him.”
The program’s volunteer board of directors also includes Chris Smithen, vice-president; Dave Oren, treasurer; Joanne Fecteau, secretary; and Cannon as head coach. The ultimate goal is to expand and offer teams in other Special Olympics sports such as bowling, track and basketball, Smithen added.
A car wash fundraiser will be held on May 24 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Carson Valley Swim Center parking lot. The program is also seeking corporate sponsorship to help the Killer Whales in their efforts to build for the future.
“I thank these guys for their efforts at the end of every practice,” Cannon said of the swimmers, adding with a wide smile, “The last thing we do at the end of practice is give a cheer ... ‘1, 2, 3, Killer Whales.’”
Cannon went on to credit the team’s entire staff of coaches, including T.J. Smithen, Kevin Smithen, Janosch Lancaster, Andrew Esparza, Danielle Soto, Mary Smithen and Kat Matheson.
Cannon was a competitive swimmer for the University of Pacific who in 1976 qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in Long Beach, Calif. Cannon, who went to the Olympic Trials shortly after his graduation from Lodi High School in central California, even had an opportunity to compete in the same heat of the 400-meter individual medley with Rod Stachan, the event’s gold medal winner at the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal.
“This is my gold medal being able to get in the water with these guys,” Cannon said of coaching the Killer Whales. “To me, this is a great opportunity to give back what was given to me. It’s their turn now.”