Kathie Herrera, a 15-year-old sophomore at Vermillion High School, was honored on July 27 in Aberdeen at the South Dakota High School Coaches Association 40th Annual Award Luncheon with the 2011 Special Olympics South Dakota, Outstanding Athlete of the Year Award. This award is presented to a Special Olympics athlete who has demonstrated the true spirit, courage, sharing and joy of Special Olympics.
Kathie recently returned from Greece after competing in the World International Special Olympic Games. Kathie was selected to represent the United States and be on the US Swim Team after earning multiple Gold medals during swim events at the National Special Olympics held in Lincoln, NE in July 27, 2010. Kathie practiced her swimming skills with Yankton Swim Team and attended USD swim camp one week before departing on June 18. She joined the US Team traveling to the Isle of Rhodes, Greece. The team practiced, adapted to the area and prepared for the competitions for a week prior to the actual competitions which started after an amazing international star-studded opening ceremony on June 25.
Kathie competed in the first preliminary events of the Games early the next morning. As a Special Olympian, Kathie could only participate in four events yet she managed to medal in all of them. She received a silver, second place in the 100M Breast stroke, Division F2 with a final time of 1:54.25; a silver, second place in the 100M Freestyle Division F2 with a final time of 1:22.41; a silver, second place in the 4x100M Medley Relay where she swam the Breaststroke in the second leg of the medley with a final time of 6:37.83 and a bronze, third place in the 200M Individual Medley, Division F1 with a final time of 3:44.77.
Kathie also competes in basketball, bowling and track and field Special Olympic events. Kathies coach, Jen Law states that Kathie has blossomed and grown in confidence as she has competed in Special Olympics. Kathie has been helpful and attentive to younger Special Olympic athletes who are new to sports. Ms. Law cites that Kathie has been particularly helpful with one student who was not responsive to their regular methods yet with Kathies attention and help, the student is now participating more fully.
Kathies parents state that Kathie initially was very insecure and frightened of new events and activities. She experienced high levels of anxiety when stressed or frightened. Team sports were difficult because Kathies delayed responses often frustrated other teammates and coaches. Swimming became her sport because she loved to be in the water. It seemed to have a calming effect.
Kathie was allowed to develop at her own pace without the worry of competition. Over time, as her confidence grew, Kathie started to attend competitive meets. In Special Olympics activities everyone participates and the emphasis is to do your best. Special Olympics activities have helped Kathie to continue to grow in confidence and leadership. She has developed friendships locally, nationally, and internationally.
Kathies parents are particularly proud of the Athlete of the Year Award as it reinforces their belief that Kathies growth, development, and maturation continue to improve with participation is Special Olympic activities.