Waterford’s Eblidge takes swimming gold at USA Special Olympics Games

Waterford’s Stephen Eblidge shows off his swimming medals from the USA Special Olympics Games held June 5-12 in Orlando, Fla., including the gold medal for the 50-yard breaststroke. It was Eblidge’s third time competing at the national games and her first gold medal at that stage. Eblidge, 32, competes locally for Special Olympics Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

East Lyme: Stephen Embridge is so competitive that he challenges his family members to a Fitbit walking challenge every week: “Here you go, Matthew,” he said, sending one such challenge earlier this week in the direction of to his brother, Matt.

Then, if one of them is in front of him, Eblidge will stand up and walk around his room a few times until he’s back in front.

“He needs and loves to be active,” said Cecilia Eblidge, Stephen’s mother. “He prefers to go out walking… and beating us. We all have a Fitbit. Everyone in the family has a Fitbit. And every day they tell us how far behind we are.”

That’s the value Stephen Eblidge used earlier this summer at the USA Special Olympics Games in Orlando, Florida, representing Connecticut as part of his swimming delegation.

Eblidge, 32, won gold in the 50-yard breaststroke in a personal-best 38.3 seconds, edging out her nearest competitor by a fingertip, and took fourth in the 50 butterfly (32.6) and as part. of the 200 medley relay team, in which he swam the breaststroke leg.

Eblidge competed June 6-9 at the Rosen Aquatic Center, with athletes staying at the Walt Disney World site.

The rest of the family, Cecilia and her husband John and sons Matt, 34, and Lindsay, 29, made the trip to cheer on Stephen, who has been swimming in the Special Olympics since 1999, for adults and children with intellectual disabilities. .

“Excited. Very proud,” Stephen said, asking how he felt about winning the best overall breaststroke time at the games.

“He ran a lot; she wanted that gold medal,” Cecilia Eblidge said. “She went to North Haven twice a week from January to June to practice with the other swimmers on the Connecticut team. When he was selected in October, from October to December, it was once a week. They practiced their relay, they practiced their individual races. It’s very natural, especially the butterfly and breaststroke. He just picked up the pace of those shots.”

‘Coach Mom’

The swimming gene in the family comes from Cecilia, who swam at Harrison High School in Westchester County, New York, and later at Alfred University.

Cecilia is the assistant girls swimming coach at East Lyme High School and a volunteer assistant for the boys team. She’s the head coach of East Lyme Middle School’s team, which was on a streak of five consecutive state championships before the pandemic cut it short, and in fact, there’s rarely a time when she’s not at the East Lyme pool in some capacity. , also on staff at Nutmeg Aquatics.

Of Cecilia and John’s three children, Stephen is the only one who swam.

“Team sports were a little more difficult, but since swimming is more of an individual sport, she took it well,” Cecilia Eblidge said. “He’s the middle child and the other two didn’t do any swimming. He was the one doing the swimming. He’s been in Special Olympics competitions, 20 years ago.”

Stephen teases Cecilia by calling her “coach mom,” but her support network is extensive, from her former coaches with the Southeast Connecticut YMCA Dragons, whom Cecilia refers to as “fantastic,” to to his former Waterford High School swim coach Brett Arnold (Stephen). is a 2009 Waterford graduate).

His cheering section extends from Groton Special Olympics Coordinator Ellen Cicchese, who directs the program where Stephen participates year-round in bowling, field hockey, basketball, swimming and pétanque, to to Team Connecticut swim coaches James Geanuracos and Heather Minervini.

It ranges from his father and sister, who drove him twice a week to distant swim practices in preparation for the national games, to a list of welcoming teammates at Waterford High that Stephen still fondly lists: Blaze Adamson, Dwight Tracy and Maggie Ray.

“He’s made a lot of friends. It’s really good for him,” Cecilia Eblidge said. “I’m happy that he’s doing a sport that he can do for the rest of his life. It’s not something that gets old.”

It was Stephen’s third USA Special Olympics Games, competing in 2006 in Ames, Iowa, and 2018 in Seattle. It was his first gold on that stage.

Following Team Connecticut’s appearance this year in Orlando, the athletes were greeted upon arrival at New Haven’s Tweed Airport by their families, as well as Governor Ned Lamont and Senator North- American Richard Blumenthal.

“We were really nervous, but he came through. He got his gold medal,” Cecilia said. “He doesn’t really show (nerves). He’s like a racehorse. You put him on the block and as soon as he goes, ‘beep,’ he goes.”

Disney reviewed

The Eblidges, who have annual passes to Disney and visit the parks often, will return to the Magic Kingdom in the coming days as a victory lap for Stephen. While last time he focused on business, this time his attention will be on roller coasters, specifically “Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind.”

Stephen works weekdays at Puffins restaurant in Groton. Cheers New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones: “I miss Tom Brady, too,” he said, and NASCAR driver Alex Bowman.

And walk

During the COVID-19 shutdown, with all Special Olympics programs in the area on hiatus, Eblidge began walking approximately 25,000 steps a day.

Stephen participated in the Road to the USA Games Fitness Challenge and finished seventh overall in the country, logging over 4 million steps in 20 weeks. He is often accompanied by his father, John.

“He does it to keep fit.” said Cecilia. “It has a neighborhood circuit, a daily circuit. He goes before work, after work, after dinner, three times a day, about three one-hour walks.”

That makes Stephen Eblidge hard to beat in a Fitbit challenge…or anything else, for that matter. He lists his favorite card in the UN deck as the “roll two,” piling handfuls of cards onto his unsuspecting opponents.

Lately, he has a gold medal to show for his competitive fire.

“It’s taken him a lot,” Cecilia Eblidge said. “This one is special.”

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