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Intellectually disabled Seal Team coming for Samoa Swim Series

A team of four intellectually disabled athletes from New Zealand will be competing in the Samoa Swim Series in August alongside the mainstream.

The Seal Team consists of Tate Pichon (22), Troy Rangi (32), Shazeel Saheb (19) and Joshua Vegar (19), and is coached by team founder Sarah O'Dwyer.

“They’re quite an amazing bunch of boys," she said.

Pichon, who has Soto Syndrome (Cerebral Gigantism), started open water swimming five years ago and he achieved his goal last season by competing in the Rangitoto 4.6 kilometre event.

Rangi, who has microcephaly, also started five years ago and hopes to build his confidence to swim longer.

“They’re all individually incredible and special," O'Dwyer said.

Saheb, who has low functioning autism, started open water swimming last August and has already competed in the 4.6 kilometre Rangitoto swim.

Vegar, who is high functioning autism/Asperger's Syndrome, started in October and has quickly increased his distance with a goal of swimming 2.5 kilometres.

O'Dwyer, a long time open water swimmer herself, founded Seal Team after starting volunteering at Special Olympics North Harbour.

“I took them down to Takapuna beach and I said right guys, see the buoy over there, you’re gonna come swim with me! Let's go for it."

She said they have really taken to it, and said Pichon for example used to balk at the sight of jellyfish.

“This young man has swum through swarms of lion’s mane jellyfish like we all did and got stung to smithereens."

O'Dwyer said she tries to be upfront and honest with the boys.

“It’s not terrifying, it’s just a blob and it’s gonna sting you."

She said their socialisation skills have all increased.

“Open water swimming is brilliant for mental stimulation, social interaction."

O'Dwyer said there is an incredible community in the sport around the world that creates a sense of belonging for the Seal Team, and they'll get a taste of that at the Samoa Swim Series.

Rangi has previously competed overseas at the Special Olympic Games, but the rest of the team are swimming internationally for the first time.

“This is just huge for them, being in Samoa and meeting all the other swimmers from all over the world is going to be mindblowing for them, I can’t wait," O'Dwyer said.

She is hoping they can show the benefits of unified sports.

“Even if you are a Paralympian, or a person with an intellectual disability, you are capable of competing in the mainstream.

“Because you’re just as good."

And that's something O'Dwyer is passionate about showing the community.

“Just because someone has an intellectual disability, it doesn’t mean to say that they are different in their ability to participate in sports.

“They have so much to offer!"

The Samoa Swim Series will take place from the 1st to the 3rd of August.

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