By Noah Hale
Jimmy Tadlock is going for gold this summer. The 28-year-old was just one of several competitive kayakers assembled on the Severn River at Arlington Echo in Millersville last week. The athletes are part of a Special Olympics team in Anne Arundel County who gathered for their first time trial of the year in preparation for the state event.
Tadlock—his coaches call him the Terminator—was there to compete in the 1,000-meter course. Tadlock is a two-time soccer gold medalist and has competed in the Special Olympics since he was 9 years old. Like many of his teammates, this is the first time he’s been able to compete in the kayaking event since the pandemic sidetracked the competition. The group practicied for four different events: the 100-, 200-, 500- and 1,000-meter races.
“This [event] allows the athletes to gain competition experience, but also allows us to take their times in preparation for the state meet so that they can be seated with other athletes of similar times for competition,” says head coach Joshua Wallace.
The kayaking team formed over 18 years ago by some of the same athletes that were competing in the time trial. They represent a wide range of ages—the youngest competitor is 13 and the oldest is 55—yet most of them are experienced athletes.
“We’ve been able to bring in younger people, but most of them are further along,” said Wallace. “It’ll be exciting to see the athletes—they’ve grown a bunch this year, both in technique and endurance, so it’ll be exciting to see what their times actually are and how we rank among the other teams in the state,” he added.
The competition brings with it a social element as well. “I like being in the water and seeing different people and faces,” Tadlock says.
Athlete Amanda Moore has been a Special Olympics athlete for 30 years. Her mom says the program is more than just sports to her family. “For people with disabilities, for a lot of them, high school ends and they don’t see those people because a lot of them don’t drive,” says Lisa Moore. “So we’re their transportation. And honestly, without Special Olympics and things like it, like Gigi’s Playhouse in Annapolis, they lose that circle. So this has just been amazing for her.”
Volunteers from the Annapolis Jaycees helped set up the event and assisted the athletes in getting in and out of the water. “We’re volunteering, we’re helping out these kids who want to compete and partake in the special olympics and we’re giving them the opportunity to do so,” said volunteer Tom Jones. “And you can tell they’re all here to have fun. It’s really great seeing them and their families.”
Assistant coach Michelle Pena began volunteering for the Special Olympics when her family got involved. Now she works as a coordinator inside the Special Olympics. “When you see these guys and their accomplishments and the love of their sport, you get invested in the whole program,” she said. “They make a difference in my life.”
The state competition will be held Aug. 20 at Washington College where the team will vie for a spot in the national competition.
See the team in action in a video report by Bay Bulletin’s Cheryl Costello below.