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Unified Beach Games: a New Vision of Victory

The Open Water Swimming competition at the recent Special Olympics Italia Beach Games in Cesenatico offered a truly inspiring vision of what victory really means.
A man and three women wearing wet suits and swim hats and goggles on their heads, hold hands and smile as they walk out of the sea together with water splashing around their legs.
Mauro Schiavone, Anita Greco, Aurora Yose and Federica Ianicelli emerge from the water to cross the finish line together in the Open Water Swimming competition at the recent Special Olympics Italia Beach Games in Cesenatico.

Special Olympics Italy recently hosted the first Beach Games to be held in Europe Eurasia and supported by Lions Clubs International. In mid-September, athletes took to the shores of Cesenatico to compete in 3 days of high level competition in open water swimming, beach volleyball, beach soccer and beach bocce.

Special Olympics Open Water Swimming saw competitors swim in pairs made up of a Special Olympics athlete and a partner without intellectual disabilities. On the second day of the Beach Games, Mauro Schiavone and Anita Greco from Special Olympics Corona Ferrea Nuoto of Monza competed against Aurora Yose and Federica Ianicelli from Special Olympics Eunike of Savona.

Special Olympics Italia Unified Beach Sports Games

Mauro, Anita’s swimming partner, recalls how the race began, “For the first 500 meters, we were a short distance behind Aurora and Federica. Around the first turning point, I could see that Aurora’s determination was giving way to total discouragement.”

“We were so close to each other and I wanted to encourage her. Without thinking twice, I shouted ‘Forza [power] Aurora!’”

“In return, Federica, Aurora’s partner, did the same for Anita, shouting “Come on Anita, push!” From that moment on, Federica and I alternated our shouts of encouragement between Anita and Aurora all the way to the end!”

“We no longer felt we were two teams racing against each other, but rather a single team, working together towards the finish line.”

Lucia Zulberti, Special Olympics Italia National Technical Coordinator of Swimming, was among the supporters cheering from the shore. She said, “From the beach I saw them coming with very little distance between them. I screamed loudly to encourage both teams.”

Lucia continues, “I have been in Special Olympics for 35 years and I have heard several extraordinary stories, but I never thought I would see what I saw. I was not prepared for a different kind of ending to that race. Just as the two pairs got close to the finish line, I saw Mauro and Federica, the two partners, exchange a conspiratorial look. They didn’t have to say anything, they understood each other perfectly.”

“I watched with admiration as Mauro and Anita slowed down to align themselves with their two ‘opponents’. Mauro and Federica then invited their respective teammates to join hands. They did so without any hesitation, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.”

Together, all four athletes crossed the finish line as one. In doing so, they showed everyone watching a different version of victory – four athletes who created a sense of connection, spontaneity and joy by finishing together!

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