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First ever swim meet for our children with special needs

Last Saturday morning at Utulei Beach, parents, supporters, organizers of the swimming event of young athletes with special needs gathered for American Samoa’s first adaptive aquatic swim meet. The children with special needs who participated were Lauren, Louisa, Lita, Hanipale, Justin, Dennis, Mosese, Jasmine, Miracle, Sina, and OJ. [Courtesy photo]Sandy Scanlan coordinator of the PCSN with some of the athletes with special needs together with their families and friends who received gold medals during the Awards Ceremony of the first adaptive aquatic Swim Meet for special needs athletes in Amerika Samoa last Saturday at Utulei Beach. [Photo: Ese Malala]Swim Coach Zero Iaulualo praised athletes with special needs for finishing the swim meet and making it to the finish line. The first adaptive aquatic  swim meet was held last Saturday at Utulei Beach. [Photo: Ese Malala]Athlete Miracle Singh, a 10-year-old from Leone poses with a volunteer, Earl, and his family after receiving a trophy and silver medal during the awards ceremony after the adaptive aquatic Swim Meet held last Saturday in Utulei.  [Photo: Ese Malala]Three athletes with special needs excitedly pose for the camera after racing in one of the heats of the first adaptive aquatic Swim Meet in American Samoa held last Saturday in Utulei.  [Photo: Ese Malala]

Sporting endeavors are a conventional part of childhood, and experts agree that children benefit from them. According to the Women's Sports Foundation, girls do better in school, boost their self-esteem, and learn teamwork and goal setting. Boys can learn leadership skills, establish new friendships, and channel their energy. Both sexes can establish a life-long relationship with physical fitness, too.

Children with physical and mental disabilities, however, often face obstacles when they try to join sports teams. Incredibly, competitive coaches may not want a child with limitations on their team. Others fear that they won't be able to effectively coach the child or manage medical emergencies that could occur. That does not - and should not stop parents from getting their children with disabilities onto the playing field.

Last Saturday morning at Utulei Beach the Parents of Children with Special Needs (PCSN) Network, along with the organizers of the Special Olympics of American Samoa had a first ever adaptive aquatic open water swim meet for children with disabilities.

This was born from a strong desire for families of children (any age) with disabilities (any disability or special need) to come together to support one another, keep aware of things going on in our community available to our kids, to create activities specially adapted for our children, and to empower, educate and enable our families as they care for and advocate for our children. It is something to show that children with special needs can play on the field and be in the water.

Teaching kids with special needs to swim are not only a good idea, it’s essential.  Swimming lessons help kids with disabilities in a number of key areas, including greater muscle strength and physical endurance, increased flexibility, more self-control, and, in many instances, improved behavioral outcomes.

The swimming program came out of a love for water and its availability on island, it's therapeutic value, and the many things that can be done in the ocean says Sandy Scanlan. Sandy Scanlan coordinator of the PSNC also told Samoa News, “It is god's swimming pool as our coach calls it. I believed that our children with special needs and their families need programs for our kids to be able to join in and participate and learn to swim.”

This was the first time it was done in American Samoa, 11 children with special needs of all ages participated as they firstly started with just 2 children. There was much love, words of encouragement, fun, excitement and motivation amongst the special needs, volunteers and all those who were there to support the amazing event.

Hanipale from Tafuna a local special need expressed his excitement for getting a gold medal said to Samoa News, “I came number two, and I love swimming it is so much fun, YAY!”

Swim Coach Zero Iaulualo of the American Samoa Aquatics Agency (ASAA), Special Olympic, and volunteers has helped the children learn to swim and to be safe in the water. Coach Zero mentioned while giving out the medals during the Awards ceremony, “I am so proud of these kids, and I am so glad they had a great time.”

A volunteer Earl who assisted one of the special need Miracle Singh who is 10-years-old from Leone said, “I am just helping out because these kids deserve it and am very proud of Miracle today.”

The PSNC, Special Olympic and the ASAA with the children and other community volunteers and supporters are moving forward with the plan for the children with disabilities to be represented in the next world Special Olympics to be held in Abu Dhabi in 2019.

The children who participated were Lauren, Louisa, Lita, Hanipale, Justin, Dennis, Mosese, Jasmine, Miracle, Sina, and OJ and all received medals for achieving their goal to participate.

Swim Coach Zero expresses his gratitude, “The History make in Am-Samoa, first ever Adaptive Aquatic Swim Meet! The Parent with Special Need Children (PSNC), Special Olympic (SP) and the ASAA would like to say a sincere "Faafetai” Thank You to all who supported our children and our swim meet. Also a big "Faafetai" Thank you to all our Volunteers & our sponsors Dept of Health who teamed up with South Pacific Watersports who made it possible to have this event.”

The ASAA and the PSNC with continue to conduct swimming lessons at Utulei beach on Thursday at 2:30pm all student with Special needs are welcome -or Call Sandy at 731-3959.