Water has been like a magnet for 18-year-old Jacob Levin since around age 2. “He’s naturally gravitated toward the water since he was a toddler,” says his father Steve Levin. Passionate about swimming, the teen from Calabasas became competitive, recently earning a spot in the upcoming 2023 Summer Games of the Special Olympics Southern California.
Jacob is one of five members of the Calabasas Sailfish Swim Team representing the San Fernando Valley at the Summer Games that will take place at Cal State Long Beach on June 10 and 11. He will compete in the fundamental division, facing others with similar competitive abilities. The teen has Down syndrome and is nonverbal.
“My son inspires me every day with his passion for swimming and his disability,” says Steve. “He’s a good swimmer,” he adds with pride. In fact, Jacob’s commitment to the sport led his father to join the Special Olympics as a head coach of the Sailfish a year ago. “This is my first time coaching,” says the dad, a pharmacist by trade, who acknowledges not having much experience in sports mentoring and teaching. “I had only coached my daughter in soccer when she was little,” he explains.
But with the Special Olympics, coaches do more than teach the skills, values and spirit of being a true athlete. They are also tasked with being a role model and character builder on and off the field of play. “Special Olympics coaches go even further — they support athletes with intellectual disabilities to discover their own strengths and abilities,” says the website of the sport’s nonprofit. “They encourage them and challenge them to build upon those strengths and improve every day.”
The coach is excited that the Sailfish, who train at the Calabasas Tennis and Swim Center, is sending five members to the regional Summer Games. In addition to Jacob, the other swimmers are Kai Joiner, Antonio Storm, Issac Galem and Sivan Buchinsky. “I’m very excited because it’s a great experience for them,” says Steve Levin. “They all worked very hard and took pride in their competition.”
The five Sailfish qualified for the upcoming games at a tournament at the San Fernando Regional Pool earlier this month. Held May 13, The San Fernando Valley Swimming Competition featured teams from Northridge, Santa Barbara, Santa Clarita, Santa Maria, Torrance and Ventura. According to Wendy Ellet, director of sports and programs for Special Olympics Southern California (SOSC), more than 130 gold, silver and bronze medals were handed out to more than 60 swimmers in three individual events and relays.
The swimmers at the San Fernando meet ranged from 5 to 65 years of age, Ellet said. “If an athlete has the desire to compete, they do,” she states. The Valley tournament marked the return of SOSC’s annual regionals after the pandemic. Participants started training again in the fall of last year. “We’re so excited to be back and doing the best we can, which is empowering people to do their best,” says Ellet.
The May competition came to the Valley thanks to Irwin Rosenberg, a lieutenant with the San Fernando Police Department, who is a member of Special Olympics Southern California through a law enforcement council that helps raise awareness and funds for the organization. “We have had a partnership with SOSC since 1991,” says Rosenberg.
In Calabasas, Steve looks forward to his team competing at the Summer Games. “The winners will qualify for the national games, and then it’s the world games,” he says, excited about the possibility that his team could advance further, collecting more medals. “The Sailfish are truly an inspiration,” he adds.
Thank you for the kind mention regarding the swim competition coming to San Fernando. It is my great honor and privilege to be a part of Special Olympics through the Law Enforcement Torch Run, which started with 6 officers in Witchita Kansas in 1981. These athletes are my heroes!
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