Local girls take gold

Four swimmers win at state Special Olympics

— Jaimee Sexton still was proudly wearing her three Olympic medals Monday. The thrill of victory had not ended for the gold-medal winner of the 50-meter freestyle swimming event at last weekend's Special Olympics Colorado 2006 Summer Games.

"I was so excited, I couldn't believe it," said Sexton, a 21-year-old Oak Creek resident. "During the 50, everyone in the crowd was chanting my name, and I just kept swimming."

Sexton is enrolled in Steamboat Springs' Stepping Stones transition program, which helps developmentally disabled adults improve their life skills. Fellow Stepping Stones participants Rhianna Kresl, Aubrey Nettleton and Jamie Kaminski also competed in the Special Olympics Colorado 2006 Summer Games.

With help from Jeanie Lombardi and Julie Hoff, the four girls and teammates Marisa Lombardi and Clinton Koler, joined the Soroco swim team. Team members competed individually and in a relay squad at the May 13 Colorado Western Area Summer Games in Craig. The six swimmers swam fast enough to qualify for the state competition, but Marisa Lombardi and Clinton Koler didn't attend the meet.

With help from coach Betsy Packer, a Stepping Stones paraprofessional, the girls trained for the state meet by practicing at the Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Center.

"Practice helped the most with my swimming, working harder -- exercising harder," Sexton said.

The hard practice paid off. The four women took home gold medals -- Nettleton in the 50-meter freestyle and 25 butterfly; Kaminski in the 400 freestyle; and Kresl in the 25 freestyle. During the meet, which was held at Loveland's Mountain View Aquatic Center, each woman set personal bests, and collectively they took home a silver medal in 25-meter freestyle relay.

Stepping Stones paraprofessional Darrel Renfro said the women enjoyed the impressive opening ceremonies of the event as well as the "college experience" of staying away from home in the dormitories. For Sexton, the empowering memory of standing on the blocks before her big race will not soon be forgotten.

"I thought, 'I think I can do this,'" Sexton said. "It was amazing, and then I finally won."

Volunteers interested in the Special Olympics, the summer unified softball program (combining players with and without disabilities) or in donating to the women's future swimming trips, can call Stepping Stones at 871-6937.

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