COLUMBIA — When Leanna Krogmann was in sixth grade, she invited her classmates to a swim party. And when she showed what she could do in the pool, she surprised them all.
"She was always slower in class with learning, and when they saw her in a different light in the pool, they were amazed," said Krogmann's mother, Connie Dewey, said. "It was really cool. She could actually race them and beat them."
Krogmann, now 27, is mildly mentally disabled and also has epilepsy. When she was younger, she had seizures that hospitalized her multiple times, and, as a result, she fell behind developmentally, Dewey said.
"Her life has been interrupted by seizures," Dewey said, "but she hasn't been to the hospital since she was 12."
Swimming has been a part of Krogmann's life since she was 3 years old, when she started taking swimming lessons, and it has always been something she enjoys. When her family moved from Hannibal to Columbia in 2007, she had the opportunity to swim for Special Olympics. Swimming was not a Special Olympics sport offered in Hannibal.
This weekend, Krogmann will be joining Special Olympics Team USA in Athens, Greece, to compete in aquatics at the 2011 Special Olympics World Games set for June 25 to July 4. She is one of six athletes chosen from Missouri and will be among 325 athletes from the United States.
This is the first year Krogmann, who said she never thought she would go to Greece in her life, has had the opportunity to travel to the World Games. But she is not new to competition outside of Missouri. She has been to the Special Olympics National Games twice, once in 2006 in Ames, Iowa, for track and field events and again in 2010 in Lincoln, Neb., for swimming.
Krogmann's Special Olympics coach in Columbia, Laura Wacker, said she has seen much improvement in Krogmann after coaching her in smaller groups where she gets more attention.
"We hope that carries over across the water," Wacker said of Krogmann's improvement.
Wacker is unsure about the competition the other countries will bring to the World Games but emphasized that Special Olympics in Missouri doesn't focus on competition as much as learning, participation and overcoming obstacles.
"I'm sure everyone will leave feeling like a winner," Wacker said.
Participating in Special Olympics has allowed Krogmann to not only swim with athletes from around the world, but also get involved, make new friends and become more independent.
"She has a full life all because of Special Olympics, and she's feeling really good about herself," Dewey said. "As a parent, having her my whole life, she's been happiest due to these opportunities with Special Olympics."