Special Olympics Florida athlete Gregg Dedic rises early for swim practice before work, but he’s not headed to the pool – he’s off to swim in a lake. Gregg is a star Special Olympics athlete and pioneer in the fast-growing sport of open water swimming.
Open water swimming takes place in outdoor bodies of water including oceans, lakes, and rivers, rather than a traditional pool. The level of difficulty and changing environments give athletes the opportunity to challenge themselves more than they could in a swimming pool. Open water swimming provides a new freedom for swimmers to take their skills to the next level.
Open water swimming is not an officially recognized sport in Special Olympics North America, but success stories from athletes like Gregg are helping make the sport more popular and widespread.
Just in 2017, Gregg has traveled the state, country, and world competing in open water swim events. In January, he competed in the first of three Swim Miami races, followed by the second in May, and will swim in the third race in August. Swimmers in these races receive medals shaped like puzzle pieces which will all three fit together.
He then traveled to Alcatraz in California to compete in a truly unique competition and brave the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean. He finished in the top quarter of all swimmers at the race. Next, he went beyond U.S. borders and competed in the Flowers Sea Swim in the Cayman Islands where he again had an impressive finish in the top 20 percent. He even had the opportunity to swim with stingrays!
Gregg has even more in store for the second half of the year. In addition to his regular Special Olympics sports, he will compete in the third Swim Miami race, Tropical Splash race, and JJ Hill Lake swim.
Special Olympics Unified Sports is also a big part of Gregg’s life. Unified partners (individuals without an intellectual disability who compete with and alongside Special Olympics athletes) can provide extra fun and support as athletes learn to become comfortable in new waters. Gregg loves swimming with his Unified partner Natalie Nickson.
Gregg’s love of oceans goes beyond swimming. Since 2003, he has worked at SeaWorld Orlando as a park operations host. SeaWorld not only supports inclusive employment opportunities, but has also been a sponsor of Special Olympics Florida and annually hosts the Polar Plunge at their waterpark Aquatica. Greg participates each year by fundraising and taking the “plunge.”
Special Olympics Florida has helped change Gregg’s life on many levels. He stays healthy and active through sports and training, makes new friends, has become more outgoing and confident through leadership training and becoming a global messenger through the Athlete Leadership program.
“Gregg’s life is Special Olympics,” said Pamela Osborne, Gregg’s mother. “It has given him the confidence to pursue life head-on…He looks at life as an adventure and says he feels blessed to be part of Special Olympics Florida.”
Gregg’s outlook on life is limitless. Maybe that’s why he loves the open water so much – there are no limits.