Before the Special Olympics Cycling Classic at Dover Air Force Base on Sept. 23, Sussex Riptide athletes gathered at the Ocean View Police Department for a pre-race hurrah.
“This is a nice cooldown before the Dover race. When they get there, they’re amped up and ready to do — whereas this is more of a social event,” said Riptide coach Adam Rones.
“They all enjoy it — it’s a fun day for all of them,” added coach Tony Gough.
The athletes, with a full-blown escort from the Ocean View Police Department, pedaled from the OVPD all through Bear Trap — about a 45-minute ride — before returning to the police department for a celebratory pizza party.
“I like it,” said athlete Jillian Calanna, 23, who also participates in tennis and bowling. “I like being with the athletes and socializing.”
“I’ve been biking for a long time,” added athlete Gretchen Cooper, 38, who also competes in bowling.
The regatta is the second-to-last hurrah after months of training at the Delaware National Guard Bethany Beach Training Site.
“It’s rewarding to have all the practices and have them enjoy it on a weekly basis. Cycling — we have the Dover race at the end. So, each week they look forward to practice; but them throughout the season — they’re really looking forward to the Dover race,” said Rones. “That’s fun — to build them up to a goal and at the end of it they get their ribbons at the Dover race. It’s very rewarding. It’s just great to see them work their way through it.”
Sussex Riptide athletes Christine Arancio, Carol Bak, Calanna, Cooper, Justin Daisey, Robert Franco, Connor Hartman, Andrea Koehler, Timothy Magee, Suzanne Schaible and Robert Smith Jr. went on to compete in the Special Olympics Delaware (SODE) Cycling Classic.
SODE athletes competed in races ranging from 500 meters to 20 kilometers, including tandems at certain distances.
“They all enjoy it — it’s a fun day for all of them,” said Gough.
Working with the National Guard to facilitate training for cycling athletes has been a wonderful experience, said Rones and Gough, and a partnership for which they are thankful.
“Delaware National Guard in Bethany has helped us out a lot, because we used to ride up and down Route 1 in Bethany and then take the back streets, and that got a little hairy,” said Rones. “It’s been a nice, safe place where we can do our thing and not deal with a lot of traffic.”
“We greatly appreciate the National Guard,” added Gough, noting that the two entities have been working together for four years. “They welcomed us… It’s a very, very nice environment to be in. That is just the most awesome venue for us to be in.”
Daisey, 36, said he loves going fast on his bicycle during practice.
“We do it at the National Guard base in Bethany Beach. We get to hang out with the officers every once in a while.”
“I told them, ‘Thank you for your service,’” added Calanna.
Rones said interest in cycling has grown among the Riptide athletes — with around 15 participating in the sport.
“I think this is the biggest team we’ve had,” he said. “The nice thing is it’s a little less competitive down here. Some of the northern teams are a little more forceful in their training, and pretty serious. This is a little bit more geared toward participation.”
The regatta does not take place every year, but the Sussex Riptide athletes do have a great working relationship with their local police department.
On Thursday, Sept. 21, riders were given an escort by OVPD Officer AnnMarie Dalton and PFC Brian Caselli on patrol bikes, the department’s ATV and one patrol vehicle.
“The police are nice,” said Calanna. “We do regattas, Cops & Goblins; we have parties for the athletes here.”
“Chief Ken [McLaughlin] has always welcomed us here and has always invited us to come participate with his department,” added Gough. “They’ve been very helpful. It’s just become a fun thing to do.”
McLaughlin has supported the organization for years, participating in events such as the annual SODE torch run and hosting athletes at the department.
“Chief McLaughlin has always been a big supporter of Special Olympics, and a lot of the kids live in this area. So, we let them have their Halloween parties and other events here. We try to help them out as best we can to give them safe escorts,” said OVPD Sgt. Rhys Bradshaw.
Next month, the department will host the team’s Halloween party at the station.
“It’s fun to hang out with them, and let them see us and get to know us better. Like Jillian, as you saw — we’re on a first-name basis.”
Bradshaw said being out in and interacting with people in the community is important to the department, and their partnership with Sussex Riptide is just one example.
“We always want to be seen in the community as part of the community. We want to know the people in the community and have them know us as people,” he said. “We want our interactions with the community to be more than just us stopping them for a traffic violation.”
The Ocean View Police Department and the Delaware National Guard are two of many local entities who support area Special Olympics athletes.
Bicycle Connection, Millsboro Bowling Alley, Bayside Tennis Club and Sea Colony have been champions of the team.
“Sea Colony is extremely supportive of everything we do. They open their doors to us for tennis, strength training, swimming…” said Gough. “We have a lot of folks who live in the community who make donations and help whenever they can.”
According to its website, the mission of Special Olympics Delaware is to “provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for more than 4,200 children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.”
Daisey, who also competes in swimming, bowling and tennis, said he loves getting to hang out with all his friends and suggested more athletes join.
“It’s always fun!”
Gough said many of the athletes also work in the community — at Hocker’s, Walgreens, Giant, and Marshalls.
“One important aspect of this is building social skills, so they can communicate with others,” he added.
The organization is always looking for volunteers to help out, and these volunteers said it takes very little time to make a big impact. Rones said the cycling sport is a great way of seeing whether or not volunteering is right for a given person.
“A lot of it is more supervision than technical knowledge. It’s a good entry point to see what your comfort level is with the athletes and use it as a jumping-off point.”
Rones first started coaching tennis 10 years ago and then moved on to cycling.
“I had graduated from college and got work out here, and I was just looking for something to get involved in,” he said. “My first practice, Marie [McIntosh, a fellow volunteer] was there, and she encouraged me to grow in the field. She’s sort of the hub down here and does an awesome job volunteering her time for it.”
Prior to his retirement, Gough was a member of the Frederick County Board of Education for five years, where he was chair of curriculum.
“Once you start working with the athletes — they start to get to know you, you start to get to know them — it becomes like a family. It’s a very rewarding thing to do,” he said.
Gough said meeting McIntosh was also a key factor in becoming more involved in Special Olympics.
“If you’re going to be with her, you’re going to be in Special Olympics,” he said of his partner, with laugh. “I got a little involved in it until I met Marie.
“My favorite line is: ‘I’m following Marie.’ Even when we’re traveling in Europe! We’re going through this small town in Germany, and there are all these trailers and big signs, ‘Special Olympics Germany.’”
“It takes volunteers to do this,” said Gough simply.