Seacat Selvey wins top honors in Lincoln
     2015-03-12      By Doug Harris    dougharris@geringcitizen.com
Photo by Doug Harris/Gering Citizen - State Special Olympics 50-yard freestyle champion Lia Selvey sits with her parents Mark and Jill Selvey of Scottsbluff. The 9th grade Seacat had a finishing time of 43.28 seconds. 
Scottsbluff freshman and Seacat swimmer Lia Selvey, competed in the Special Olympics 50-yard freestyle race conducted at the Nebraska State Swimming and Diving Championships at the Bob Devaney Sports Center in Lincoln late last month. This was the first time the championship included a Special Olympics event in the competition.
Selvey had the lowest time among the six selected participants, and she won the race in 43.28 seconds.

Lia is the daughter of Mark and Jill Selvey from Scottsbluff. The 16-year-old Scottsbluff High 9th grader said she was very happy to take top honors but confessed she was a little overwhelmed at times by the ‘millions’ of people who cheered her on at the pool.

Lia’s parents said that she is developmentally delayed and has some cognitive disability related to Coates’ disease. Her mother Jill said the condition is very rare and that Lia is also hearing impaired and blind in one eye.
“I like swimming,” Lia said. “I like to do freestyle. The best part of the trip was getting the medal.”

Lia was an active member of the Seacats for the entire season traveling with the team to several out of town events but the State meet was the biggest event she has ever competed in.

Scottsbluff/Gering Seacats coach Mike Hayhurst said it was a long weekend for her and agreed the event was really crowded and a little chaotic at times.
“She’s not used to being at a swim meet for two days or two- and-a-half days,” he said. “We had to keep a little bit of an eye on her, but she did a great job with everything.”

Her father Mark said he was very pleased Lia and other Special Olympics athletes were integrated for the first time into the State Championship.
“We were all there and it was a really special day for everyone,” he said. “People from all over the state were there to support the girls at the swim meet.”
Mark said the 50-yard freestyle was the second event of the championship and it set the tone for a very exciting weekend.

“She had to make a qualifying time with team events in Scottsbluff,” Mark said. “A great thing about Scottsbluff is the people are so giving here. We had an idea that maybe Lia could be a student manager for the team, but they said ‘you can be on the swim team.’ So she was placed on a varsity sports team with her high school teammates. This never could have happened in a big city like Omaha or Lincoln.”
The Seacats declared themselves a unified team at the start of the season and Lia was expected to work as hard as anyone else who made the varsity squad.

Coach Hayhurst said, “The cool thing about her is she comes to practice every day and does our workouts. She’s not off in some special lane or anything like that. She does exactly what everybody else does.”

Mark said the coach let him know about the Special Olympics event at State and asked if they wanted to sign her up. “We said ‘sure’ as it sounded like a great opportunity.”

“All the coaches are so neat,” Jill said. “They treated her like an equal member of the team. Coach Hayhurst gets all the credit.”

“Except me,” Mark added, “for teaching her how to swim.”

So after meeting the qualifying time Lia packed her bags along with the rest of the team and they headed off to Lincoln. She rode with the team and shared her hotel room with her friend and teammate Makala Fogg. “I fell out of bed two times,” Lia admitted with an infectious smile.

Lia also singled out teammate Ian Galindo for being especially nice and encouraging to her.

Mark said six other girls competed in the 50-yard freestyle and the race was extremely close. “She was the only one to dive and she is really good with the flip turn. She was ahead for most of the race but near the end it was neck and neck,” he recalled. “The whole crowd got up on their feet and were screaming.”
Lia won the race by the merest of margins – just edging out runner-up Aleigha Haverman of Elkhorn/Elkhorn South by 0.16 seconds.

“Including Special Olympics in regular high school sports events is becoming more prevalent,” Jill said. “This is becoming more accepted in sports. It is all part of the move towards integration over the past 25 years.”

Jill said the highlight of the trip for her was sitting down with all the other parents who had brought posters and banners to cheer on their kids. “The best part was when the whole crowd all stood and cheered. I also think it is nice that she is from western Nebraska.”

All of the Special Olympics athletes were awarded medals but coming in first place seemed to give Lia’s a little extra shine.
“She wore her medal around for two days straight,” coach Hayhurst said. “She was pretty excited about it.”

Being a Seacat takes true dedication and can be hard on parents as well, the Selvey’s said. “They practiced all through Christmas vacation and had to arrive at 5:30 a.m.,” Mark explained. “They swim, they lift weights; they are an amazing group of dedicated kids and they embraced and loved her.”

Lia said the hardest part about practice was swimming the backstroke and that at 5:30 in the morning it was always dark and cold. “But we all have to go to practice,” she said. “My medal says 2015 and I will be on the swim team next year too. All those people up the stairs were all shaking hands and hugging. I like it.”

Coach Hayhurst said they’ll be glad to have her back next season. “She cracks everybody up,” he said. “She’s just hilarious with with the stuff she says and her laugh just gets everybody laughing. She’s a fun kid to have around.”

Editor’s note: Gering Citizen sportswriter Terry Gaston contributed to this story.

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