Class 4A state meet notebook: Liberty special needs swimmer takes center stage

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THORNTON -- Here are a few notes from the 4A state meet on Saturday.

Liberty swimmer with down syndrome competes at 4A state meet

To cheers from a packed Veterans Memorial Aquatics Center, a pair of special needs swimmers – Liberty’s Mei Simmons and Littleton’s Samantha Ostlee kicked off the 4A state meet with a 50-yard freestyle.

For the Lancers’ sophomore, the big stage was nothing new.

Following her race, Mei walked into her father’s arms, smile as big as can be. The 15-year-old, who has down syndrome, has swam competitively for different club teams for eight years and has been with her high school squad for the past two.

Her father, Oscar Simmons, said his daughter has competed in events in Japan, Taiwan, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and across the U.S.

“(Down syndrome) doesn’t make her less capable, it just means she picks things up less quickly,” he said. “In this case, she will attach herself to certain things and become very, very good at them. For example, swimming.”

Liberty coach Erik Richardson hopes events like this – and swimmers like Mei will help push more special needs athletes into competition.

“It’s great that we’re finally recognizing that, and it is a huge part of our swimming world, and this athletic world,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity and honor to do that (in Colorado). Hopefully we can be one of those trendsetters nationally and states will start doing this.”

The Lancers swimmers crowded around the side of the pool as Mei raced to the finish. Richardson said his team was emotional afterward.

Liberty qualified in five spots in the consolation finals.

Rampart’s divers propel team in standings

Led by two relatively new faces to the sport, Rampart’s dive team pushed the Rams past Cheyenne Mountain in the team standings midway through the meet.

Freshman Maggie Buckley took second with 464.25 points and Gabrielle Peltier was sixth with 426.50 as the gymnasts-turned-divers made their mark in what ended in a state celebration for Rampart.

The two divers said they were aware of the implications their dives would have on the team score – they just weren’t worried about it.

“I’ve heard about it, but I wanted to just focus on my dives and do the best I could,” Peltier said. “Being able to contribute to the team is really awesome. Glad I could help.”

Peltier, who is in just her second year in the sport, finished sixth moving up one spot from a year ago. Buckley missed a state title by .15 points after only starting the sport in the fall.

“I guess I was kind of an underdog,” Buckley grinned. “It was kind of a surprise to everybody.”

Like father, like son

Rampart coach Dan Greene was embraced by his father after the state meet on Saturday. Dan said his dad, Larry Greene, has been a U.S. swimming official for around 30 years.

“I couldn’t be prouder of this young man,” the father said.

Where did your school land?

Air Academy had four swimmers finish in the top eight. Aleksandra Olesiak finished second in the 100 breaststroke (1:02.91) and fifth in the 200 IM (2:08.54) to lead the Kadets, who took 13th.

Liberty and Pine Creek tied for 18th. The Lancers were led by Gabi Roehr’s 10th-place finish in the 200 freestyle (1:57.39) and 12th-place finish in the 100 freestyle (54.18). Kennedy Terry was seventh in the 100 backstroke (59.95) for the Eagles, who also had three divers finish in the top 16.

Mia Shaeffer was sixth in the 100 butterfly (57.55) and 12th in the 100 backstroke (1:00.86) for Coronado, which was 20th. Vanessa Nuhn was 16th in the 500 freestyle (5:35.43) to pace Mesa Ridge/Widefield to 30th.

Cheyenne Mountain, which finished second, had nine swimmers land in the top five. Cat Wright and Frances Hayward both had a pair of top-five finishes as individuals.