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Green resident wins gold medals at national Special Olympics

6/26/2014 - South Side Leader
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By Sean Patrick

Henry Woodside is shown diving into a pool at the Special Olympics USA Games.
Green resident Henry Woodside won three gold medals and one silver medal for swimming at the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games.
Photos courtesy  of Rebecca Hartong
GREEN — Henry Woodside took home four medals for swimming at the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games, which took place June 14-21 in New Jersey.

The 21-year-old Green resident won gold medals in three individual events and a silver medal in a team medley, said his mother, Rebecca Hartong, of Green.

“Henry competed in four aquatic events — the 50-yard freestyle, the 100-yard freestyle, the 50-yard backstroke and the Ohio swim team’s medley relay, which was a 4x25 relay, and he swam the 25-yard butterfly,” she said. “This event only happens once every four years and all 50 states participate in most events. The Ohio team as a whole participated in 10 sporting events, one of which was swimming, and the total number of athletes from Ohio was 67, with four of those being swimmers.”

Woodside — who has Klinefelter’s syndrome, a chromosomal disorder resulting in learning and developmental delays — said he was able to achieve the goals he had set for himself prior to the games.

“I was really shooting for three golds all the way and I’m really amazed I got that,” he said.

This was Woodside’s first time as a participant at the national Special Olympics, Hartong said.

“He wasn’t even swimming four years ago in organized sports,” she stated. “Henry came to swimming a little later in his life, at about 11 years old. But he never swam competitively, or as part of a team, until he started swimming with the Summit Special Olympic Athletic Club [SSOAC] about two-and-a-half years ago. He has been doing really well at the state events, where the games are held in the summers and winters each year at [The] Ohio State University. But Henry is in his prime, and it’s just a blessing that he was chosen [for the Special Olympic Games] this year.”

Woodside said he was honored to take part in the event.

“It’s a big responsibility representing my home team SSOAC, Summit County and the whole state of Ohio,” he said. “I did this for everyone who believed in me.”

Getting Woodside to the Special Olympics in New Jersey required the assistance of quite a few people, Hartong said.

“We had a huge fundraiser back in February, and my husband [Randy Hartong] pretty much planned that,” she said. “We had a large contingent from his swim team show up, as well as his coaches, family members, neighbors, and there was a lot of community support. We reached our goal and got Henry there. It’s very expensive and he’s an amateur, so the parents either have to pay it or raise it. But we were very blessed to be able to raise the money.”

This weekend, Woodside will have the ability to further add to his medals collection when he takes part in the Special Olympics 2014 State Summer Games at The Ohio State University June 27-29.

“He will be swimming on Saturday, June 29, in two events and possibly a relay,” Hartong said. “This will be his fourth trip to the state games since he started swimming with the swim club, and I think Henry is really looking to be a leader for his team at this point.”

According to Hartong, Woodside has gotten “exceptionally better” at each of the games in which he has competed.

“He has a coach, Gene Fitch, who works him hard twice a week. Henry swims straight through for an hour and a half. He doesn’t come out of the water, as the coach has him building his stamina,” she said. “He just started to swim the butterfly this year, and he did amazingly well in the butterfly at nationals, so we were really pleased.”

Woodside said he has learned a great deal from working with Fitch.

“My coach, Gene, is great,” he said. “He taught me everything I know about swimming. And I’m still learning.”

No matter how well he does this weekend, however, Hartong said her son has already proven he can reach his goals.

“Henry is a champion swimmer — returning with three gold medals and one silver after these games — but he already was a champion in life, having overcome setbacks to be a working, driving, participating member of his community, and a friend and leader in his circles,” she said. “Henry, at 21, has accomplished what many thought was impossible. Not only did he learn the multitasking and motor skills to swim, but he worked hard and reached excellence in his sport.”

Woodside said he hopes he can continue to provide inspiration for others.

“I want people to know that people with disabilities can do everything anyone else can; it just may take us a little longer, and we need a little help,” he said. “Everybody has some disability, but I am not letting mine stop me.”

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