Bringing home the gold

North Kitsap’s Richard Heckly shows off his gold medal for the 50-meter Backstroke and silver medal for 50-meter Freestyle that he earned at the 2012 Special Olympics Washington Summer Games June 1-3. - Kipp Robertson / Herald
North Kitsap’s Richard Heckly shows off his gold medal for the 50-meter Backstroke and silver medal for 50-meter Freestyle that he earned at the 2012 Special Olympics Washington Summer Games June 1-3.
— image credit: Kipp Robertson / Herald

POULSBO — Swimming was the first competitive sport Jacob Conklin ever tried.

When he joined the North Kitsap Vikings Special Olympics aquatic team at the age of 12, he was the youngest swimmer. He was also not the person people know today.

“You see him here now, this is not the kid he was when he was younger,” his mother, Dianne, said.

Five years later he’s more alert, more vocal, Dianne said. He’s more involved and more engaged.

Jacob, 16, has received “tons” of medals, qualified for Nationals twice, and competed at State four times.

“It’s been an amazing transformation,” Dianne said.

Jacob was one of 10 swimmers on NK’s Special Olympics aquatic team to earn a medal at the Special Olympics Washington Summer Games June 1-3. Also medaling: Naomi Barrett, Christian Castillo, Richard Heckly, Cody Kessler, Robert Konracki, Ryan Nesbitt, and unified swimmers Ellie and Tim Gallagher.

The swimmers qualified for State following the regional competition in May, where the team earned 15 gold, 22 silver and 14 bronze medals. The team is coached by Judy Chase. Chase began coaching more than 20 years ago.

Cody Kessler, 15, who competed for his first time this season, said the water sport agrees with him. He enjoys the exercise he gets training for the competition. Though he said he gave up a lot of video game playing and free time on the weekends, it was worth it.

“He had an amazing first season,” Chase said of the first-year competitor. The swimmers on the Special Olympics team are supported by participants in the Poulsbo Piranha Swim Team. The support, or unified partners, compete with their teams during certain events, such as relay swims.

Kessler, Castillo and the Gallaghers earned gold in the 4x100 Meter Unified Freestyle Relay (ages 8-15 bracket).

Ellie, 14, said everyone was slightly nervous at State. However, those nerves were calmed after the relay team placed first in its heat against three other teams. Ellie said their strategy in the water worked well.

“It’s just been really fun,” she said. “It’s fun to watch everyone get better.”

But taking home a medal isn’t all that matters.

Naomi Barrett, 12, took third in the 25-meter Flotation Race (ages 8-15 bracket). She took fourth in the 15-meter Unassisted Backstroke (8-15). What seemed to matter most, however, was the thrill of being there.

Naomi’s father, Paul, questions whether Naomi realizes she was in a competition. What he does know, was the excitement he saw in his daughter’s face as she finished a race. She likes the cheering crowd. She likes the awards — especially the ribbons.

“I don’t think Naomi knows there is a competition,” Paul said. “She comes out with a smile on her face.”

Originally, the Barrett family wanted Naomi to be involved with the team so she could learn to swim. That’s quickly evolved. At Regionals, the young swimmer completed the 15-meter front- and backstrokes on her own for the first time. That surprised everyone, Paul said.

Along with the benefit of the exercise, Paul said socializing is a plus. Naomi’s older sister, Annika, swims for Kingston High School — she went to State with the 300-yard Medley Relay team during the 2011 season. The two swim together now, which has helped them bond, Paul said. “It’s something she can be a part of … and be the center of attention for something positive,” Paul said.

Summer Games Medalists
- Naomi Barrett, bronze, 25-meter Flotation.
- Christian Castillo, silver, 50-meter Freestyle; silver, 100-meter Freestyle.
- Jacob Conklin, gold, 50-meter Freestyle; gold, 100-meter Freestyle.
- Elizabeth Hancock, silver, 50-meter Freestyle; bronze, 50-meter Backstroke; bronze, 100-meter Backstroke.
- Richard Heckly, silver, 50-meter Freestyle; gold, 50-meter Backstroke.
- Cody Kessler, bronze, 50-meter Backstroke; silver, 100-meter Backstroke.
- Robert Kondraki, bronze, 50-meter Butterfly.
- Ryan Nesbitt, silver, 10-meter Assisted Swim; gold, 25-meter Flotation; silver, 15-meter Flotation.
- 4x100 meter Freestyle Relay team (Christian Castillo, Cody Kessler, Ellie Gallagher, Tim Gallagher), gold.


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