Twenty-five years ago, a news item in The Hartford Courant caught the attention of Keith Moon P'13,'16, instructor in history and English. A brief paragraph noted that the Northwest CT Special Olympic swim team desperately needed money to continue and was seeking donations of any kind. Moon, a swimmer and longtime boys varsity swim coach, figured the Hotchkiss community could do something about it so he organized the School’s first Swimathon. Seventy-six swimmers participated, raising a surprising $4,500 for the team and allowing it to continue to compete.
Since then, the School has hosted the event every fall. On Nov 3, the Swimathon celebrated its 25th anniversary raising $15,000 and involving 247 swimmers, surpassing the previous high, set two years ago of 235 swimmers and $13,000.
Members of the Hotchkiss community, the Northwest Connecticut Special Olympics swim team and students and adults from surrounding towns took the plunge into Hixon pool, raising money for each lap they swam and by donating directly to Special Olympics CT.
Some of the 16 members of the Northwest Special Olympics CT team have been coming for the last 15-20 years for the day long event, said Moon. “They’re wonderful; they work incredibly hard, and they raise money for the event themselves,” he said of the athletes.
Members of the Hotchkiss Special Olympic Club, take the Special Olympic athletes to brunch in the Dining Hall on the day of the event. The club is headed by John Eastman ’20, and J.D. Comeau ’21; board members include Grace Helm ’21, Mitchell Riley ’22, and William Wildish ’21.
“It was remarkable to have swimmers from not just from Hotchkiss but from lots of local public and private schools participate. We had tremendous community support from beginning to end,” said Moon.
Actress Susan Saint James, a member of the Special Olympics CT board, was among the many area swimmers who participated. Commemorative medals were given to all participants, and 25th anniversary T-shirts were given to all members of the Special Olympics swim team and were available for sale to members of the community.
But beyond all the accolades, the real reward for everyone was being able to spend time with these athletes, said Moon.
“I think it affords Hotchkiss kids an opportunity to see that there is more to life than just what they see in their Hotchkiss world,” said Moon.
“Wisdom and respect for one another are the qualities that Special Olympic athletes have; some of them are the finest people I know,” he said.
After seeing photos of this year’s event on Facebook, Rachel Blieden, who attended Hotchkiss as a prep in 2014 and participated in the Swimathon, wrote in an email to Moon:
“I have remained involved with Special Olympics ever since. I coached the Special Olympics swim team in Ridgefield, CT during the remainder of my high school career and have been coaching the Ann Arbor Special Olympics swim team since I arrived on campus last year. I have also participated for the past four summers in the Connecticut state games as a Unified Partner. This past summer I interned with Special Olympics CT health programming and was able to help plan the Healthy Athletes village at the summer games.”
“Seeing the pictures of the Hotchkiss Swimathon today really reminded me how I first became involved with Special Olympics, and how grateful I am for that.”
All the money from the event goes directly to Special Olympics CT. The Northwest Connecticut Special Olympics swim team is able to cover its pool rental costs and transportation to competitions and other athletic events with the money raising at Hotchkiss each year.