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Special Olympics more than a competition for Outstanding Athlete of the Year

Wednesday, May 30, 2012 | 7:25 p.m. CDT; updated 8:12 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 30, 2012
In this file photo from July 2011, Columbia Special Olympics swimmer Leanna Krogmann is shown after her return from the Special Olympics World Games in Athens. At this year's state competition in Columbia, she won four gold medals on Wednesday.

COLUMBIA — Leanna Krogmann gets much more out of her involvement in Special Olympics than just medals and exercise.

This year, Krogmann's confidence and athleticism stood out and won her the Outstanding Athlete of the Year award. She was chosen out of 15,000 athletes at the Missouri Special Olympics Summer State Games.

"She was pretty pumped," her mother, Connie Dewey, said. "It's a great honor. So many athletes are deserving of this award, so we were all kind of surprised when Leanna won."

Since being introduced to Special Olympics in 2004, the 28-year-old swimmer from Columbia has blossomed from a nervous wallflower into an outgoing, self-confident young woman, Dewey said.

"It was an eye-opener for me to see her be around people and be herself," Dewey said. "Because of her involvement in Special Olympics, she has really come out of her shell."

Interacting with others proved difficult and nerve-wracking for Krogmann before she became involved with the organization, her mom said.

Now, it is much more natural. Krogmann appreciates the friendships she has established over the years with other Special Olympics athletes.

“My favorite part of today was being at Mizzou and being with my team,” Krogmann, who competed in four events Wednesday, said. “My favorite part of Special Olympics is being around my friends.”

Special Olympics offers Krogmann and other individuals with disabilities the chance to feel comfortable and accepted — a chance to focus on their abilities rather than disabilities, Dewey said.

"People with disabilities don't feel very successful compared to others," Dewey said. "The Special Olympics staff has always been very encouraging to Leanna and other athletes. They seem just as excited as we are."

Krogmann has shown strong dedication to her sport. She swims at least twice a week and is especially focused during the season, Dewey said. She has also competed in national and global events, including the 2006 National Games in Ames, Iowa, the 2010 National Games in Lincoln, Neb., and the World Games in 2011 in Athens, Greece.

For Krogmann, competitions are more about family than awards and medals. They give her the opportunity to show off her skills and make her friends and relatives proud, Dewey said.

"Leanna enjoys the family atmosphere more than anything when it comes to competitions," Dewey said. "She loves to make jokes before competitions, smiling and saying things like, 'Today is all about me!'"

Although Krogmann has a degenerative left hip that might pose problems in the future, as long as she is able to compete, she will, her mother said.

The rewarding moments Krogmann has experienced from Special Olympics drives her dedication to swimming, Dewey said. Krogmann wants to be a part of Special Olympics for many years to come.

Krogmann took home four gold medals Wednesday. She won individual medals for the 100-meter backstroke, the 200-meter breaststroke and the 100-meter individual medley, which includes breaststroke, backstroke, butterfly and freestyle. Her 4 x 50 freestyle relay team received a gold medal as well.

“It’s tough sometimes to get (all gold medals), but it’s good,” Krogmann said.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.


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