As soon as the first members of the Oakton Swim Club stepped onto the George Mason pool deck for the Potomac/Rappahannock Regional Aquatics Championships last spring, the compliments began flying. Coaches, parents, and even other athletes were impressed not only by the cohesion of the club, which competes in Special Olympics Virginia events, but also by the squad’s apparel. The swimmers wore team t-shirts, personalized caps, suits with a logo and the team motto of “Accepting the Challenge, Preparing for Victory.” They had numbered backpacks and even racing suits donated from the collection of world-record holder and former O’Connell All-Met Kate Ziegler.
For area high school teams or USS clubs, anything less might seem utterly unacceptable. But for the members of the Virginia Special Olympics community, such organization is not an everyday sight. Competitors often show up to Special Olympics events lacking proper equipment and the support of a team. But when the Cougars show up for a meet, they look every bit as prepared for competition as the high school swimmers on Friday nights – because they are.
Founded last year by the parents of two freshman girls who suffer from physical disabilities, the Oakton Swim Club isn’t a team that teaches beginners how to swim; it is a full-fledged club designed to satisfy the passions of high school swimmers with disabilities, many of whom have been involved in the sport competitively for much of their lives.
“My daughter [Alison Robbins] and a couple of others swim year round and they swim on their summer teams,” said one of the club’s founders, Nancy Robbins.
Each Saturday from 12:30 to 2:00 p.m., the Cougars come together for a practice that rivals the workouts of many high school teams, covering 2,500-3,000 yards in the 90-minute timeslot at Cub Run RECenter.
The club is slated to compete in three meets before the end of the school year, culminating in the Special Olympic State Games, for which four Cougars qualified last season. Among the representatives was Sarah Metzendorf, daughter of program co-founder Joan Metzendorf, who swam to two gold medals and one silver against the top athletes in Virginia.
Currently, Oakton Swim Club is the only program in Fairfax County of its kind, but those involved are working hard to expand the model to include similarly situated athletes across the region.
Alison, Sarah, and their eight teammates aren’t the only talented athletes associated with the Oakton Swim Club; their coaches know a thing or two about competitive swimming themselves.
Under the direction of the club’s head coach Adam Luddeke, a Fairfax County swim instructor and Oakton graduate, are 14 assistant coaches, all members of the Oakton High School swim and dive team.
In their own meets, the Oakton High School swimmers have posted an impressive record so far this year. The girls cruised through some of the toughest competition in Virginia, notching a 7-0 mark in the Concorde District and winning by no less than 40 points all season. The boys, too, were stellar in dual meets, beating Chantilly twice and Robinson once en route to a 6-1 finish. Both will compete for league titles this weekend at the 2011 Concorde District Swim and Dive Championships.
“I love working with her,” freshman Mikaela Metzendorf said of working with her older sister, Sarah. “It gives us a chance to bond. At school we see each other and at home we see each other, but sometimes we are doing our own things… When we go to the pool we get to be together.”
Steven Robbins and Hyer, both senior captains, have been instrumental in the organization and promotion of the club. Though their presence will be missed next year, neither questions the strength of the program they have helped build.
“This year we have definitely spread the word about [Oakton Swim Club] to a bunch of kids on the [Oakton High School] swim team and we have a lot more volunteers,” said the All-American, Robbins. “It should continue to go well next year and in the years to come.”
And although they have heard the praises, for Steven, Leanne and the other coaches, working with Oakton Swim Club isn’t about the winning the admiration of others.
Said Nancy Robbins, “When you tell these kids thank you they say ‘Are you kidding me? I love doing this.’”
Check out a swimming spotlight video feature on Prep senior Jonathan Ekstrom by Katherine Vences for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC./The Washington Post.