When John “Lucky” Meisenheimer talks about coaching Special Olympics Florida swimmers, he begins with a lesson on acceptance and inclusion.
“It’s just like coaching any other athlete; I can’t emphasize that enough,” he says. “Special Olympics athletes fall in love, they get into spats, they have a great sense of humor. So, treat them like you would any other athlete.” Meisenheimer’s been doing that for more than two decades. He spent 25 years as a Special Olympics Florida swim coach and remains a huge supporter of the movement.
A prominent Central Florida dermatologist, he hosted the recent Swim for Inclusion – part of the larger Race for Inclusion campaign – at his lakefront home in Orange County. The swim raised about $4,000. Meisenheimer will also host open-water swimming in the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games.
Meisenheimer is well known among open-water swimmers. Since 1989, he’s invited the public to join him in his early morning, one-kilometer swims across Lake Cane. Anyone is welcome at “Lucky’s Lake Swim” – provided they follow safety protocols and are strong enough to complete the crossing.
No one’s kept exact numbers, but tens of thousands of people have done the swim. That includes Mike Mallamas, who became the first Special Olympics athlete to complete the swim 20 years ago. Mallamas was there for the Swim for Inclusion, joined by about 30 other Special Olympics Florida athletes and Unified partners. Meisenheimer said it was exactly what he’d hoped for.
“Special Olympics is about inclusion, Lucky’s Lake Swim has always been about inclusion, and it’s a perfect meld between both worlds.”