Ill. Special Olympics swimmer heads to world games

June 16, 2011 10:17:48 AM PDT
On Friday, a local gold medal swimmer is heading to Greece to represent the U.S. in the Special Olympics World Summer Games.

She is the only swimmer from Illinois.

After 23 years of winning medals in different events, 37-year-old Jeanne Decarlo's dream has come true.

At Elmhurst's YMCA, Jeanne practices swimming as her coach and mom Sheri encourages her to swim faster.

Swimming has always been something Jeanne does well. She was born with Williams Syndrome.

"Well they have since discovered since she was diagnosed, they've discovered it's similar to Down Syndrome and that it's a mutation of a gene, and so she is born with it, and they have heart problems typically and cognitive disabilities," Sheri said.

Jeanne's strength is verbal and friendliness.

"They are very social children with Williams Syndrome and very social, very friendly and very eager to please and help those are good things to have in children and athletes," Sheri said.

At the world games, Jeanne will participate in several events.

"She'll be swimming 50-meter freestyle, 100-meter freestyle, and she will be the first swimmer in the four-by-50-meter freestyle relay," Sheri said.

Since she started with Special Olympics at the age of 14, Jeanne has won almost 120 medals.

"I tell them I get it from swimming and bowling, but before I did swimming I did track and field," Jeanne said.

Both mother and daughter are excited about going to Greece.

"I saw pictures of Greece. It looks beautiful, I can't wait," Jeanne said.

"I'm going as a mom and not as a coach, and I am so excited to go as a mom and cheer her on with our family. We have about ten people going to Greece," Sheri said.

After all these years of hard work, Jeanne is finally being recognized.

"She works very hard as a swimmer, she does things that are way outside her comfort zone, and she pushes herself just like athletes do. And she deserves to be recognized for those efforts," Sheri said. "This year, she'll be going to Greece and she'll be showing the world what a great person she is and what a great swimmer she is."

We wish Jeanne well and the other members of the USA's Special Olympics team. To learn more about Special Olympics visit: or

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