Michael Phelps helps train Evanston Special Olympic athletes


Source: Evanston Special Recreation

Michael Phelps poses with athletes at The Valentine Boys and Girls Club of Chicago. Phelps on Saturday helped train Evanston Special Recreation athletes.

Julia Esparza, Reporter

Olympians Michael Phelps, Allison Schmitt and Grant Hackett hosted a swimming clinic for Evanston Special Recreation athletes in Chicago on Saturday.

Six Evanston Special Recreation athletes — athletes who have developmental or intellectual disabilities — attended the event held at The Valentine Boys and Girls Club of Chicago, which was planned in coordination with the Michael Phelps Foundation.

Dian Christensen, who works for the Michael Phelps Foundation and helped coordinate the event, said she thought the Evanston athletes would benefit from receiving coaching from the professional swimmers.

The athletes worked with Phelps, Schmitt and Hackett on their streamline positions and other swimming skills, she said.

“Michael really worked hard to spend time with every swimmer … the whole interaction was extremely positive,” Christensen said.

Christensen said Phelps, Schmitt and Hackett enjoyed the event and hope to continue working with Special Olympics as the program expands throughout the U.S. The Michael Phelps Foundation is partnered with Special Olympics.

Christensen is on the board of the Michael Phelps Foundation and has a daughter who is an athlete in the Evanston Special Recreation department. The department develops Special Olympics athletes to compete in state and national events.

She said she arranged for the clinic to be held for the Evanston special recreation athletes.

“The training is so impactful to the swimmers,” Christensen said. “It finally gives them the ability to set goals whether it’s training goals or even just life goals.”

To aid with technique training and swim safety, the Michael Phelps Foundation developed the “IM program” — named for Phelps’ signature event, the individual medley. The program was adapted for an international Special Olympics program that has spread across six continents.

Christensen said while Special Olympics coaches often know the basics of swimming, the clinic gave athletes the ability to learn about more technical aspects of swimming like breath control and stroke techniques.

“This program helps teach the swimmers some skill set that they don’t have,” Christensen said. “It will help them be more successful whatever the event and whatever the stroke.”

Michael Phelps Swimming director Cathy Bennett, who is on the Michael Phelps Foundation board and helped create the IM program, attended the event and said the Phelps Foundation hopes to continue the event’s progress by creating a swimming program in the Chicago area.

Evanston Special Recreation program manager Leonard Woodson said he was excited to give his athletes the opportunity to gain instruction from Olympians. Woodson has coached many of the athletes in a number of Special Olympics events.

“It was awesome not just based on the fact that my athletes were able to meet these Olympic athletes, but also to have them work with the athletes,” Woodson said. “There was no ‘these are people with disabilities,’ they worked with them like they were any other kids.”

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