‘You couldn’t ask for a better teammate’

Andy poses with friends after the 2013 Summer Games. Contributed by Rosemary Mahon, Hamden-New Haven swimming coach.

Andy poses with friends after the 2013 Summer Games. Contributed by Rosemary Mahon, Hamden-New Haven swimming coach.

When he was seven years old, North Haven resident Andrew Campion swam because he simply enjoyed being in the water. Now, 30 years later, he still swims — and wins medals.

Recently, Campion won two golds and one bronze at the Special Olympics Connecticut Summer Games. The annual three-day event took place at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven from June 7 to 9 and hosted around 2,500 competitors. Athletes participated in competitions like aquatics, cycling, track and gymnastics.

Campion swam for the Hamden-New Haven swim team and earned two golds in the 25-meter butterfly and 4 x 50 freestyle relay and the bronze in the 25-meter freestyle.

“I am very proud of myself. I had a good time for myself,” the athlete said.

Hamden-New Haven Special Olympics is a program with more than 130 athletes with intellectual disabilities competing in seven different sports throughout the year. Campion was part of the swim team that comprised 13 individuals.

Kevin Fitzgerald, local coordinator of the Hamden-New Haven Special Olympics Connecticut delegation, has known Campion — or “Andy” to his friends — for fifteen years, the amount of time he’s been the coordinator. When he first met Campion, Fitzgerald described him as “already accomplished at that point.”

“You couldn’t ask for a better teammate than Andy. He pushes himself very hard,” said Fitzgerald.

As serious as he is about competition, Campion describes the Summer Games as “fun.”

“It’s a time to be with my friends,” he said. And although athletes compete against each other, Campion believes that it’s all “friendly competition.” He said he made sure to encourage and congratulate athletes before and after the games. “I support all the athletes and coaches for every town,” he said.

Fitzgerald said, “He’s very happy no matter who wins.”

Participating in Special Olympics requires a healthy dose of sportsmanship. Campion, like many others around the world, recognizes the community value in the Special Olympics, knowing that people get involved to help a larger cause.

Special Olympics has served more than 4 million athletes worldwide since 1968. For 44 years, the Connecticut chapter has provided year-round sports training and competitions for about 7,200 athletes with intellectual disabilities, according to its website. More than 10,000 volunteers and 1,200 coaches support SOCT’s mission of hope and community for those with intellectual disabilities.

Campion wanted to make his contribution to the state’s effort this year. In the months leading to the annual summer competition, he and the swimming team trained from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Fridays, doing “tons of laps” and practicing dives in Hamden High School’s six-lane, 25-yard pool.

While swimmers usually start in the pool for the relays, Campion wanted to dive. So he, along with his three other relay mates, in addition to practicing every stroke to avoid disqualification during the competition, worked on their dives.

Rosemary Mahon, head swimming coach of the Hamden-New Haven team, said, “He was adamant; he really wanted to dive.”

And he and his teammates “did it to perfection,” according to Mahon. After the relay, Campion had asked about his dive and Mahon answered, “You slid in like glass.”

He replied, “That’s what I wanted to hear.”

Campion said the practices were hard, but he didn’t mind the work. “I just want to support my team,” he explained.

When his team needs cheering up, Campion is the one to do it. Fitzgerald said, “He tells the team to do the best that they possibly can.”

Conscientious of others, Campion thanked his swim coaches Mahon, Paul Campbell and Linda Macy for training him and also thanked his friends from the swimming team for supporting him.

His passion for sports is not limited to only swimming. He also loves playing basketball and floor hockey, Fitzgerald said. Campion’s role in the game stretches beyond running and dribbling the ball across court — he also coaches basketball on Wednesdays.

No matter what he’s doing “he puts his heart into it,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s all heart.”

Mahon added, “Andy can do anything.”

Asked if he would participate in next year’s Summer Games, Campion replied, “Most definitely yes.” He said he wants to keep swimming freestyle and butterfly but might try swimming backstroke the next time around.

Originally published in The North Haven Citizen on June 21, 2013

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