May 24—LENOIR — Colby Hawn sliced through the water at the Lenoir-Aquatic and Fitness Center as he honed his techniques and built stamina during Monday night's (May 23) swim team practice.
Hawn is one of three Caldwell County athletes who will compete in this year's Special Olympics USA Games at Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
Hawn, Brent Moretz, and Megan Hudson are three swimmers of the eight member North Carolina Special Olympics USA Swim Team. The eight swim team members, who hail from across the state, qualified to compete after undergoing a rigorous application process.
The Special Olympics USA Games will take place from June 5 through June 11. Over 4,000 athletes were selected nationwide to compete in this year's games, according to the Special Olympics.org website.
Hawn will compete in the 100-yard backstroke, 500-yard freestyle, including 20 laps in an Olympic-size pool (25-yards), and 100-yard freestyle relay, in which he and his team mates will complete 25-yards each.
"I'm excited," said Hawn, talking about going to competition.
Dana Miller is the team's coach. Miller is a special education teacher with Granite Falls Elementary School and champion to all of her students. In March, she led a group of 43 Unified Champion students in this year's Polar Plunge (March 19) to raise money for the Special Olympics.
Hawn is one of Miller's former students and she had the opportunity to watch him transform into an amazing athlete.
"I had him in my class since he was in elementary school and I get to see him in adulthood and what he is doing and his accomplishments. For me, that is a full circle moment." said Miller.
"Colby is determined, self-disciplined and loves long distance," said Miller, talking about how Hawn is dedicated to being the best athlete he can be, often pushing himself by practicing between practices.
Hawn's brother, Cam Hawn, was at the swim practice to support his brother. Cam Hawn is studying at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute (CCC&TI) and hopes to work in youth ministry. His experience as a baseball player and coach has poised him to motivate and encourage his brother.
"It has helped him to find who he is," said Cam Hawn, talking about how his brother's participation with the team transformed his brother. "He is more excited to do things."
In addition to swimmin,g Colby Hawn enjoys listening to music, especially KISS.
Although it is the first time Colby Hawn will be on an airplane, he said he's not worried, but excited about the flight.
Brent Moretz will be competing in the 25-yard backstroke, 50-yard freestyle, and will compete with his team in the 100-yard freestyle relay, in which he will complete 25-yards.
Moretz's mom, Rebecca Beeson, said Brent has been swimming since he was 8 years old.
"He just loves swimming," said Beeson. "He gets to meet people and he and Colby [Hawn] are good friends."
Beeson was wearing three of her son's medals around her neck at Monday night's (May 23) practice.
"He got two golds and a silver yesterday," said Beeson, talking about a Special Olympics swim competition at the YMCA in Hickory on Sunday (May 22).
"I hope he can bring home some gold, and have a good time," said Beeson, talking bout Brent going to compete in the Special Olympic USA Games.
Moretz's dad, Robert Ward, said Moretz also loves football and basketball because he loves statistics. His favorite teams are the Baltimore Ravens and N.C. State University's Wolfpack.
"Thank you to all of the people who supported the athletes so they can go," said Ward. "Without their support and donations they, or the parents, may not be able to go."
Megan Hudson will compete in the 25-yard freestyle, 25-yard backstroke, and 100-yard freestyle relay with her team.
"It's a really big honor to do this," said Hudson. "It is my first time going."
Hudson said training was difficult, but that she is willing to face the challenge because of all the support she receives.
"I have great coaches and good swimming pals too," said Hudson.
She said competing in the backstroke poses a challenge for her.
"I think I'm better at the freestyle, " said Hudson. "I think it helps me go faster more than the backstroke."
Hudson perseveres and has overcome other challenges in her life, including living in foster care.
"My favorite character in Disney is 'Stitch', as in 'Lilo and Stitch,' " said Hudson, talking about going to Disney World and meeting the Disney characters. "He's my favorite because he wants to find a family because he is in foster care. I'm in foster care and that is difficult, to be in foster care. I have been in foster care for about 10 to 11 years. My foster parents have really helped me throughout my childhood."
Megan encourages others to pursue their dreams too.
"If you want to be in the Special Olympics go ahead and do it, because there is no one else going to stop you," said Hudson. "You meet a lot of nice people in the Special Olympics and can do a lot of things in the Special Olympics and learn a lot of new skills."
Thomasie White, Hudson's foster mom, said that the Special Olympics offers so many opportunities to its athletes that may not otherwise be available.
"I feel Megan has learned a lot and has developed social skills and daily skills just through the opportunity to participate on the team and be out in the community," said White.
"Thank you to all of the volunteers and all the sponsors," said White. "Without them these activities would not be possible."
Kaylee Moore, assistant swim coach, was in the pool on Monday (May 23) working with members of Caldwell County Special Olympic athletes. Moore is a rising junior at Caldwell Early College High School.
"They are the same as us," said Moore. "A lot of people will assume that this is given to them, but they have earned their way here. They have worked to get to where they are."