There’s a national champion athlete among us here at Heidelberg, and he is so unassuming that you wouldn’t even know it.
The first week of July, sophomore Zachary Cotton, 20, competed in the 50th Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle. Actually, he did more than compete; he brought home some shiny hardware.
According to its website, The Special Olympics USA Games is a premiere, national sports competition that showcases the power and joy of sports at the highest levels. That was definitely the case for Zachary, from the Opening Ceremony all the way through his competing in four swimming events.
Displaying his talent and speed in the pool, Zachary swam the 50m freestyle in 44:33, claiming a gold medal ahead of swimmers from Alabama and Delaware, who joined him on the podium.
He swam the 50m backstroke in 55:89, good for a silver medal, and swam the first leg of the 100m freestyle relay. He and his relay teammates finished in 1:14:23, good for another silver medal.
Zachary was surprised when he was chosen to compete in the Special Olympics, but he worked hard to get there. “I had to do special training every day,” he said. “I practiced in the Tiffin pool while taking summer classes here at Heidelberg.” Although most of his workouts were on his own, he did have the guidance of two coaches who were part of the Ohio Special Olympics delegation.
When the competition arrived, Zachary found himself a little nervous, but he relied on his training and his personal confidence. “I was aiming for third or second, since I knew there were very good swimmers there. I knew I had to have a good performance because of how hard I trained."
"But I didn’t know I would be able to achieve above that.”
Now, he’s the proud owner of three Olympic medals, which he described as “very heavy.”
Zachary flew to Seattle with his Ohio teammates and his family from Galion, Ohio, joined him there to cheer him on. Until now, they are the only people who know about his Special Olympic success.
The Special Olympics drew 4,000 athletes from across the nation, all of whom participated in a colorful and moving Opening Ceremony. Overall, the Special Olympics experience was “better than I thought,” Zachary said. “On the plane ride home, I could not stop smiling,” he said.
He’s hoping in four years, he’ll be lucky enough to be chosen to compete again when the USA Games will be held in Florida. In the meantime, he’ll be working hard in his classes as he pursues his bachelor’s degree in computer science. He’s also practicing his guitar skills with lessons at Heidelberg, which Zachary has come to realize is the perfect fit for him.
Just like those Special Olympics medals.