Shining the Light on Broward County Swimmers

Written by Emmett Hall, Sun Sentinel Correspondent
Broward County swimmers

Special Olympics athletes recently enjoyed the thrill of competition at the Broward County Swimming Games hosted by Pompano Beach Aquatic Center.

There were about 45 swimmers who were separated into an early morning short-course session (25 meters) and a late morning long-course competition (50 meters). The long course distances featured the 50, 100, 500, 800 and 1,500-meter races.

There were plenty of smiles on the podium with well-deserved ribbons handed out for numerous strong performances.

Lighthouse Point resident Patrick Sallarulo enjoyed one of his best swimming meets ever with three first-place ribbons. A veteran of Special Olympics competitions, he raised his hands in jubilation once the ribbons were placed around his neck on the podium.  

His fellow teammates shared some of that same glory while being recognized for their own strong performances. In addition, two Special Olympics athletes, Gina Grant and Joshua Olds, completed the 1,500-meter races, equaling a total of 30 pool laps.

COVID-19 continues to have an impact on the athletes. There are still safety restrictions in place, which limit the number of people who can attend a meet. The Area Games will be done virtually and the times will be tabulated to see who advances to State Swimming Games. The Broward County athletes will be swimming at the Plantation Aquatic Complex and their times will be compared with other athletes from Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. The first-place winners will advance to the state championships (also being held virtually).

Guiding and training the Broward County athletes in the swim competitions are head coach Ann Scharf and assistants Maria Nunez, Leah Finlon, Ramona Lykes and Kelly Johnson.  “We don’t have the usual numbers this season due to restrictions placed on us by the pools we use,” Scharf said. “We had practices three times a week and have been cut back at Pompano and at Plantation to once a week as well as lane usage. It has been hard this year, and we usually have over 70 swimmers on the team.” 

There are some Special Olympics athletes that are used to swimming every day and others accustomed to practicing at least a couple of times a week. There is a lot of gratitude for the city of Pompano Beach reaching out and lending assistance as well as Plantation.

For the Area Games, Pompano Beach will entertain and time the athletes for the short-course competitions, while Plantation will be timing the long-course athletes.

“The County Swimming Games went very well,” Scharf said. “We have a lot of good swimmers. We weren’t allowed to add any new swimmers this year, which was disappointing. We have a good group of coaches working together.”

Broward County has 14 athletes preparing and training now in swimming, open water swim, surfing, stand up paddle and triathlon, with the hopes of meeting all eligibility requirements for the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games being held in Orlando.

Pompano Beach native Lee Scharf has already punched his ticket to the Games as a member of the open water swimming team. Joining Scharf will be Gina Grant, Paul Bourgeois and Gianni Mercado. After the Special Olympics Florida State Swimming Games, more athletes will be selected to represent Florida.