The Most Special Athletes in Vermont

Sarah Kelso '17
uvmmedicine blogger Sarah Kelso ’17

I became an aquatics coach for Special Olympics when I was 15 years old. I had been a competitive swimmer since the age of nine, and helping to coach this team was an opportunity to share my passion with a unique group of individuals.  On that team most of our athletes were kids just like me, but they led very different lives because of their disabilities.  Being able to bond over the common passion of being in the pool was special for both athletes and coaches.  As a former competitive swimmer, I have been on countless relay teams and have won and lost many races, but the one relay that stands out the most in my memory is when I was part of a Unified Relay at a Special Olympics meet.  Our relay consisted of two swimmer-coaches and two Special Olympic athletes, and we each swam a length of freestyle.  We won gold that year, and I had the honor of standing on that podium holding hands with two of the proudest swimmers I have ever met.

I continued to coach that Special Olympics team in college, attending practices when I was home during school breaks and coaching at the Summer Games.  It didn’t matter how long it had been since I last saw them, they were always welcoming and excited to see me.  Special Olympians are a unique set of athletes.  They are serious; they train hard, and always put in their best effort. But their passion for their sport and their teammates often goes above and beyond what I have seen from other athletes in the sport of swimming.  They are inspiring to each other and to us coaches.

When I came to the University of Vermont for medical school, I knew that I wanted to continue to be involved with Special Olympics.  I began coaching the Chittenden County Aquatics Team during the spring of my first year of medical school.  Last year, I became a head coach and was able to lead 40 athletes and more than ten volunteers to a successful Summer Games last June.  My athletes were glittering with gold, silver, and bronze medals, but more importantly, they carried themselves with pride.  The athletes here in Vermont are absolutely incredible; there are individuals of every age, and many of them are multi-sport athletes.  They all show dedication to their sport and to each other.  I am honored to have led this team, and I cannot wait for the season to restart in April.

There are many amazing volunteer coaches that are dedicated to this aquatics team, and I am so thankful for their efforts, but we could always use more help!  Anyone can become a coach, even if he or she has little background in the sport.  If the volunteer has a passion for helping people with diverse needs become the best they can be, then they will fit perfectly with this team.  Practices are on Saturdays, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., culminating in the Summer Games in early June.  If you’d like to participate, you can email me at, and I will tell you how you can become involved.  If you volunteer, I can promise that this experience will be something special!

What are your thoughts about this topic?