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September 12, 2012 | North America: Virginia

Jenny, Always Ready

By Will Schermerhorn

Jenny, early in her 800-meter race in Puerto Rico

When I met Jennifer Mitchell, she was one of a group of seven Special Olympics athletes gathering near sunset to go for a training run to prepare for a triathlon. I was there to take photos of the team, a mix of people with and without intellectual disability. She struck me as friendly and cheerful. A few days later, she was knee deep in water at the shore of a lake in Virginia, waiting for the start of the swimming leg of the triathlon. I was taking pictures again, and her determination came through in the images. She was focused. Fast forward a year and a half, and there was Jenny, wreathed in steam in the kitchen of a local senior center. It was her job, and there was that cheerful smile of recognition. And then today, Jenny was in another world, a new level of achievement, muscling her way through 800 meters (half a mile) in a Puerto Rico pool, the first heat of the first event of the first-ever Special Olympics World Aquatics Invitational. You know, one of the things that Special Olympics fights is the perception that people with intellectual disabilities don't do much because they can't do much. It's about opportunities, really. Jenny can do it and she does do it because Special Olympics opens the doors. And she dashes through, ready to make a splash.

About Will Schermerhorn: I am the father of a Special Olympics athlete, a photographer, and an employee of Special Olympics.

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