For the past six years, Bobbie Young has coached the Gainesville Parks and Recreation Masters contingent of the Special Olympics of Georgia.
In those six years, her team of individuals 23 years old and above, never competed in swimming. That was until they took part in the Special Olympics Georgia State Summer Games over the weekend of May 18-20.
In their first opportunity at competitive swimming, Mark Renfrow and Nick Cain won gold medals, while Robbie Gorsline and Patrick Young won bronze.
“They were awesome,” Bobbie Young said. “They beat their own times, one by eight seconds.”
That was Renfrow, who has dubbed himself “Mighty Mark the Bullett.” Cain, who battles cerebral palsy, cannot lift his arms above the water, but beat his time by six seconds, Bobbie Young said.
It’s just further success for a team that has opened doors for many individuals with similar conditions around the area.
Bobbie Young has been involved with the Special Olympics for more than 30 years. Her son, Patrick, who was one of the medal-winners, first joined when he was in seventh grade.
The individuals compete in a range of sports, ranging from basketball and volleyball, to bocce and bowling.
There will be a bowling competition on Aug. 24 and a golf tournament on Sept. 24. They have Fall Games, which rotate to a new city every three years, and Winter Games, which are always held in Marietta. A bocce competition will be held on Oct. 12 in Dalton.
It’s a year-round commitment that keeps the individuals involved socially and physically.
“It’s so important to keep them involved,” Bobbie Young said. “Lots of times, the people will get out of school and lose involvement with the program. We try to keep something going all year for them.”
And it’s worked. Not just in Gainesville, but around the state.
More the 2,000 individuals competed at the Summer Games in May. Hall County alone brought 99 to the Winter Games in January.
“It lets people know we’re still here,” Bobbie Young said.
Among the medalists, there’s a fairly significant difference in age. Renfrow and Cain are both 23 years old, while Gorsline is 32. No matter the age, though, Bobbie Young says that anyone involved with the Special Olympics knows one thing.
“When they turn 23 years old, they’re mine,” she said, laughing. “And they’ll tell you that.”
Bobbie Young said that the team was very competitive and put many hours in to perform their best.
She’s not far behind.
“Yes, I do get excited,” she said. “And, yes, I have been asked to be quiet. But my kids tell me, if I’m not yelling, I’m not having enough fun.”
The team practices every Saturday at Frances Meadows Aquatic Center in Gainesville, which Bobbie said has been a blessing.
“We’re so appreciative of Parks and Recreation allowing us to practice there,” she said.
But more is always needed.
Right now, she and the other volunteers with the program, including her husband, rely on fundraising for the team.
“The funds we raise are what the kids use for hotels and everything at the competition,” she said. “We don’t want any of our kids to have to pay.”
And volunteers, of course, are always welcome, she said. Potential volunteers must sign a volunteer profile form and send it in to the Special Olympics of Georgia for approval.
“We always welcome more help,” Bobbie Young said. “We need more people involved, and we do need more funds.
“This is what we’re all about. We’re all about these kids.”