Chris Mitchell has been an athlete his whole life, but he never would have predicted he’d become a competitive swimmer in the Special Olympics.
“I thought I could do something more and get to know more disabled and special needs folks, so I decided to start swimming,” Mitchell said.
On Friday, Mitchell won in the 25-meter freestyle sprint at the state championships in Richmond. For Mitchell, this is his first time competing at the state level, but what he is most excited about is staying overnight in Richmond.
Mitchell, 33, competes for the Area 22 team which covers the western region of the Peninsula. He started swimming competitively in October 2016, and since then he has gone on to compete in regional events, winning a number of ribbons and medals.
He has competed in the Old Dominion University regional swim meet as well as the Hampton Regional swim meet.
Mitchell swims the 50-meter freestyle sprint in 1:17:19, and today he hopes to beat this time.
But for him, it is more about the fun than the speed.
“I’ve met so many noble fellow swimmers,” Mitchell said. “And that’s what I’d wanted, to get to know more disabled people.”
Area 22’s swim team is known as the “Fab Five” because of the five members on the team, Mitchell said. Swimming is one of the most popular sports in Special Olympics, according to the organization. Part of the reason behind its popularity is that it teaches life skills from water safety to teamwork to individual success.
50 years of the Special Olympics
This weekend the summer games will celebrate 50 years of creating more inclusive communities, Special Olympics said, with more than 1,500 athletes competing in Richmond in events from track and field to softball.
The athletes spend months preparing to qualify for the event, and Mitchell has been practicing every week since September. He swims at the Williamsburg YMCA, where he perfects his strokes and improves his speed.
All of this training is done in addition to his already busy life. Mitchell has been a member of the ARC of Williamsburg for the past 10 years and has been heavily involved in volunteering for the New Zion Baptist Church.
“Chris does so much for the community, he does anything he can to help out,” said LeeAnn Taylor, New Zion’s church administrator. “We’re all just so proud of him and the work he has done.”
This weekend, Mitchell will dive into the water not for fame or recognition, but for a love of the Special Olympics program.
“I do this for my coach, I do this for my team,” Mitchell said. “But this weekend, I’m going for the gold.”