Throughout her life, Carol McMullen has spent much of her time at the pool. She grew up swimming, was the captain of her college swim team, was a summer swim insructor and, when she had her own kids, got them involved in swimming.

Carol’s youngest son, Chris, was born with intellectual disabilities. When he was six years old, Carol recruited Chris’ older brothers, Kevin and Matt to help teach Chris how to swim. When Chris turned eight, he became a Special Olympics New Jersey aquatics athlete. Because of her experience with and passion for the sport, Kevin suggested she start a Special Olympics swim team for Chris and other athletes in the surrounding community.

Carol contacted her local YMCA and started a team of 15 swimmers. Today, with over 40 swimmers on the team, the Monmouth Marlins fill the pool at the YMCA for their Sunday evening practices.

Each week, Carol honors one athlete after practice. Every swimmer gets a turn throughout the season and is chosen based on who has worked hard to learn a new skill or strengthened his or her social skills that particular week. After practice, athletes socialize in the YMCA pool and hot tub. Carol informs athletes about things happening in the Special Olympics New Jersey community and how to be a good sport and show respect. She works hard to develop a united team of coaches and athletes through this time of socialization and encouragement.

In addition to helping athletes learn swimming basics, techniques and racing strategies in the pool, Carol has given them the opportunity to focus on general fitness and wellness. Inspired by the 2014 Coach Conference, Carol consulted with the YMCA in the hopes of incorporating a fitness class at practice. Using a general fitness room, the team is able to have a fitness session each week for an hour before getting into the pool for swim practice. At least half the team attends the fitness sessions, participating in a variety of exercises ranging from a step aerobics class to classes focused on coordination. Because of the popularity of these fitness classes, Carol even invited parents to attend the fitness classes with their sons and daughters.

With the introduction of her fitness program, Carol has instilled an important lesson in her athletes, their families and the surrounding community: That the thrill of competition should not be the only motivator to exercise or get active. While she enjoys the competitiveness of the sport, Carol truly looks forward to seeing her athletes improve each week at practice. She believes improvement becomes more evident when fitness is incorporated into everyday life.

Carol encourages every coach and athlete to be creative when finding ways to get fit. Although it is a simple concept, she knows it’s essential to always remain positive and not give up. By taking simple steps like walking with friends or lifting weights a few times a week, Carol believes any athlete can improve his or her
health.

Watching an athlete master an element of the sport he or she has been working on throughout the season makes Carol’s tireless efforts even more worth it. Carol has always worked to help her athletes reach beyond what they think they can achieve.

“Some people have no expectations of our athletes,” shared Carol. “I’ve never treated my athletes like that. I expect them to do their best. And then I push them harder.”

For her positive spirit, innovation and dedication to her team, Special Olympics New Jersey is honored to
name Carol McMullen the 2015 Summer Sports Coach of the Season.

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