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Special Olympics Coach To Help Md. Team At U.S. Meet

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JEN BONDESON
The Frederick News-Post

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — At the end of coaching swim practice, Bob Long said he doesn’t need to hear thank you.

His athletes’ huge smiles, high-fives and bear hugs are enough, he said.

“They give the best hugs in the world,” he said. “They really do.”

Long, of Keymar, has been coaching swimming and other sports for Frederick County Special Olympics for 14 years. This year, he was selected to coach the Maryland swimming team at the National Special Olympics USA 2014 Games in New Jersey from June 14-21.

This will be the second time that Long will coach at the national competition, which takes place every four years. He coached at the 2006 games at Des Moines, Iowa. At that competition, all four of the Maryland swimmers won at least one gold medal.

Long, 64, has the ability to help the athletes be the best they can be, said Ruth Vickers, area director of the county’s Special Olympics program.

Vickers, who has known Long since he started volunteering, recommended him for the coaching position. He brings a lot to the organization, with his professional athletic background, she said.

“Bob is an athlete first, and then fell in love with Special Olympics at a later time,” she said. “He just helps bring the two worlds together.”

Long moved to the county in 1999 from upstate New York.

A swimmer since he was 11 years old, Long received a scholarship to swim in college. He has continued swimming since, and in 2009 was part of Team USA Masters in the World Games in Sydney. There, he won a silver medal in the 50 meter breaststroke, he said.

Long will serve as one of three coaches for 14 Maryland swimmers at the games this year.

The athletes are the ones who deserve recognition, Long said, not him.

Long said coaching has taught him so much about people with disabilities. He now knows that they can do so much more than most people think, he said. They face so much undue ridicule in their lives, yet work so hard to overcome their disability.

“They have so much determination,” he said. “So much determination.”

Long said he loves watching his athletes have breakthrough moments in the water.

“They jump up and down,” he said. “They give me a big hug.”

All the athletes are attached to Long, said Rosemary Naimo-Richardson, whose sister, Ginny, swims with Long. Long works well with her, and with all of his athletes, she said.

“He’ll walk on the side of the pool right with them,” she said. “He’ll say, `Come on, you can do it, Ginny, a little bit more.”‘

Long said he plans to coach for many more years, as the athletes have become his family.

“If I put a smile on a kid’s face that wasn’t there before, haven’t I made their life just a tiny bit better?” he said. “And it’s all about those tiny bits.”

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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