While running in the Special Olympics 5K race a few years ago, Alexandria resident Jennifer Mitchell got off the course and found herself running alongside all the runners in the Marine Corp Marathon in Arlington. When one of the Marines tried to steer her back to her race, she remembered a lesson her mother instilled in her not to stop. It was that perseverance that earned her two medals that day a Special Olympics medal and a Marine Corp Marathon medal, and finally secured her a spot as a swimmer on the TeamUSA for the Special Olympic World Games that is traveling to China this week for an international competition.
Shes dedicated, said Brenda Mitchell. She has more courage in her little pinkie than I have in my whole body, she added.
Mitchell is one of two Special Olympic swimmers representing Virginia in Shanghai October 2 11, competing against other nations in the 100- and 200-meter backstroke, the 200-meter freestyle and team relay competitions.
I am proud of myself, happy, she said.
Mitchells been training for the games since January at the Mount Vernon recreation center and the Burke Sport and Racquet Club, while always keeping the medals in mind and maintaining a positive attitude. She won a gold medal in the last state competition in Richmond, and was chosen for the Special Olympics shortly after that. Shes been training ever since.
Frank Marcinkowski is her swimming coach at Burke, where she swims with the adult Curl Masters swim program. In the pool, Jennifer Mitchell has a good stroke and a positive attitude. Although shes the only Special Olympics member of the team, theres no difference, between her training and the other adult swimmers, Marcinkowski said.
Mitchell works well with her Mount Vernon trainer, Laura Nelson-Bolick, also. She works me hard, shes my favorite teacher, Mitchell said. As part of a training session, Nelson-Bolick swims alongside Mitchell, with a kickboard, watching her form.
Its making her stronger, her mother said.
The Special Olympics experience has been good for the whole family. In addition to the competitions, they have dances and social gatherings so Jennifer Mitchell meets many people through the program. She knows Peter Zaino, the other swimmer whos also going to China. I know him from swimming, she said. The comeradery with Special Olympics has made her grow in that aspect, said Brenda Mitchell. It has really been a godsend to our family, she added. Jennifers father Terry is the Special Olympics swimming coach. Most of her social circle is adults on the swim team and other Special Olympics sports, he said.
When shes not training, Jennifer Mitchell has a job at Greenspring Village in Springfield, where she puts in about 25 hours a week.