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JBLM Tigers swimmers bound for Special Olympics 2018 USA Games

Courtesy Photo Genia Stewart, left, JBLM Tigers’ head coach/coordinator, and Stacie Pogonocheff, Tigers’ swimming coach, pose with athlete Andrue Lambes, 16, with a poster welcoming him to Team Washington for the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games Dec. 2

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With Special Olympics’ 2018 USA Games being held in Seattle July 1 to 6, there was a lot of excitement when Special Olympics Washington announced the members of Team Washington during a special event at Seattle’s Westlake Center Jan. 11.

Three of the names announced are from Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s Tigers swimming team — Andrue Lambes, 16, Darren Allen, 16, and Alexis Kinnan, 23. They will join about 4,000 athletes who will compete at the national event that happens once every four years.

“The fact that we have three players on our team that were drawn, it’s a great accomplishment for them and it’s great that they can represent their state and have fun out there,” said Genia Stewart, Tigers’ coordinator and head coach. “It’s something that they’ve been working on for several years.”

The JBLM swimmers were selected among a pool of other athletes who won gold at Special Olympics Washington’s Summer Games. Stewart said the three will compete in the same events they won in 2017.

Allen is scheduled to compete in the boys’ 25-meter backstroke, boys’ 50-meter freestyle and the all-athlete 4x25-meter relay. Kinnan will compete in the girls’ 25-meter backstroke, girls’ 50-meter freestyle and the all-athlete 4x25-meter relay. Lambes will be in the 100-meter freestyle, the 50-meter backstroke and the 4x100-meter unified medley relay.

A select number of gold medalists were drawn randomly for all 14 sports. While the announcement was officially made Jan. 11, coaches for athletes were informed just before the holidays in December.

Stewart received an email about Allen, Lambes and Kinnan being drawn for the USA Games just before Christmas; with requests that all athletes were informed so families could arrange for them to be at the announcement event.

So the day after Christmas, Stewart and Stacie Pogonocheff, the Tigers’ swimming coach, decided to play a role similar to Santa Claus.

They made posters for each athlete with the message “Welcome to Team Washington,” along with their respective names.

Stewart and Pogonocheff made the deliveries to each of the three athletes’ homes.

“I felt like I was the Publishers’ Clearing House guy knocking on the door announcing they had won,” Stewart said. “The reactions on their faces were priceless.”

The three athletes are not scheduled for any formal practices until March. Stewart mentioned that their parents are likely taking them to do some swimming practice on their own.

The swimmers will also begin practice with Team Washington’s swimming coaches for a three- or four-day session in May before the USA Games in July. While Stewart hopes they will do well, possibly earning national gold, she said the most important thing for them to do is have fun.

“Competition is great; it makes us better,” Stewart said. “Win, lose or draw, you’re still going to go out and do your best.”

Though not selected to be a coach for Team Washington, Stewart said she will be cheering the three athletes from the stands alongside the parents as well as observing the coaching staff.

“Just to see kind of how things run, the organization and the things I need to do in four years when I can apply when it happens again,” she said.

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