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Area Special Olympics kayaking athletes shine at statewide competition

By JAMES A. McCRAY III

Staff writer

Old kayakers prospered, new kayakers prospered.

And after 10 weeks of practices, all of the prospering made sense.

Plenty of St. Mary’s County Special Olympics athletes flourished in early October during the 2012 Maryland kayaking state games, bringing together paddlers from Special Olympics clubs from across Maryland.

But it was not simply veterans such as Kyle Russell, who earned a gold medal in the 500-meter top division race, there were also newcomers such as Kennedy McReynolds (100 meters) earning gold medals as well.

The successful trip to Piney Run Park in Sykesville on Oct. 6 was due in large part to the coaching staff led by T.J. Parkes along with Cheryl Carson, Zach Weaver and Mark Fondren.

“We were very happy,” Carson said of the outcomes. “We had a nice combination between veterans who had done it for a while and we had some new people. So, there was really just a lot of opportunity for people to shine. They all did great.”

On Russell’s gold medal, Carson added, “He has always been a very strong paddler, but just this year, he really just took off. I think, maybe, it was a combination of his focus and practice and both of which coming together for him.”

In addition to the coaching staff, the accomplished kayakers were assisted by Patuxent River Medical Clinic volunteers Erica Toussant, Christopher Johnson and Nina Merrill along with additional coaching from Paul Thurman and Kayla Woolridge.

The staff not only helped Russell and McReynolds to gold, but aided in helping Isaac Weiser (100) win an individual gold medal and the duo of Brady Carrigan and partner Brian Hartz win a gold medal in their unified race.

The last gold medal was won by April Mielcarek, who is visually impaired and paddled in a kayak by herself, but with a shadow boat beside her in aiding.

Athletes Joshua Fondren, Michelle Johnson, Karla Kless, Jeremy Degler each won silver medals in their respective races as well.

As Carson explained, coaching the athletes presented different sets of challenges, regardless of skill level and experience.

“It depended on the athlete,” Carson admitted. “There were some athletes who were already experienced kayakers who just needed to push a little harder. Then, there were some athletes who were doing it for the first time and who needed to get acquainted with being able to line up correctly and get used to the whole process.”

Carson, a Ridge resident, said she volunteers due to the enjoyable experience that it brings, in particular when winning gold and silver medals is involved.

“I mean, it’s a lot of fun and it’s very inspiring,” Carson said. “It’s especially great when you go to competitions to see everybody’s hard work really pay off.”

Normally a summer sport, the kayakers will have a slight break before preparing for the summer competition that has yet to be scheduled, according to the Special Olympics Maryland website.

After a successful fall campaign, the kayakers and staff will now aim at continuing to advance.

“For our new people, it’s to improve,” Carson said of the goals. “I think, although all of our new paddlers did well, there is definitely room for improvement. I think for our more experienced paddlers, the challenge will be continually finding ways to challenge them and encouraging them to do better.

For more information about Special Olympics St. Mary’s County, go to www.stmarysso.org.

jmccray@somdnews.com