Nick Luther does not lack for confidence.
Despite stiff competition from multiple counties throughout the state, the 18-year-old seemed all but certain that the competition would soon be eating his dust — or waves or toenails or whatever else one might expect to encounter while trailing the path of a very fast swimmer.
Luther and the rest of his merry Dauphin County band were spread across four tents outside of Penn State’s McCoy Natatorium, where some of the first laps of this year’s Special Olympics Pennsylvania Summer Games were being swum to great acclaim.
It was easy to see how a guy could walk away from all of that feeling a little invincible.
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“I love it,” Luther said. “I’m doing great. I’m happy. I love having a family.”
The crowd of adoring onlookers wasn’t just for him. More than 2,000 athletes had gathered for a weekend of intense athletic competition, which on Thursday included basketball, softball and bowling.
Sue Heaney, a head coach with Delaware County Special Olympics, brought 33 athletes to campus, a small fraction of the 110 participants enrolled back home.
“They wait for that email to go out to tell them if they’re going to Penn State. It’s huge,” Heaney said.
Their team ranges in age from 10 to 40 years old and Heaney estimates that the fastest swimmer they have can swim the 50-yard freestyle in 34 seconds.
The competition is serious, but that doesn’t preclude anyone from stealing some fun throughout the weekend — even if it comes attached to a three-hour road trip.
“Whenever one person walks on the bus everyone on the bus just screams their name…Everyone is so excited to see each other,” Michael Selfridge, one of the team’s unified swimmers, said.
Unified swimmers act alternatively as teammates and coaches, practicing alongside athletes with special needs. Helena Slupianek has held the title since she was a little girl.
The 14-year-old became involved with Special Olympics back when her older sister competed.
“It kind of gets to be like a second family because everyone is so close,” Slupianek said.