Travelers Rest swimmer wins medals in Special Olympics national games

TRAVELERS REST, S.C. – Last month, a local woman placed in multiple sports at the Special Olympics 2014 USA Games, hosted in Princeton, New Jersey.

Twenty-year-old Rachel Lewis, a Travelers Rest native, competed in the 25-yard backstroke, 25-yard freestyle and relay aquatics events in the national games, which included around 3,500 athletes from across all 50 states in the U.S. Rachel was among a team of 12 swimmers sent from South Carolina.

Lewis, diagnosed with Down syndrome prenatally, began swimming in the Special Olympics at the age of eight. Two years ago, she suffered from multiple strokes that left the right side of her body functioning abnormally.

Despite the physical setbacks, Rachel went on to qualify for the national games for the first time at last year’s state swim competition in Columbia, after much therapy and “plentiful and strong” prayers, said her mother Cyndi Lewis.

“When she was picked to go to nationals, I knew I would not be there to care for her,” said Cyndi. “There was nervousness, and apprehension.”

After placing, Rachel regularly spent five days per week training at the pool. And the hard work paid off. Her qualifying time for freestyle was 55 seconds, and when she won silver at nationals last month, she had shredded off nearly 25 seconds, with a time of 30.22 seconds.

Lewis clocked in her personal best time of 38 seconds in the backstroke competition, for which she won the bronze medal. Her swim team also won bronze in the relay race.

Rachel’s family watched from the sidelines as she competed in each event at the 2014 Special Olympics. Instead of apprehension, Cyndi said she was feeling thankfulness.

“She was three for three,” said Cyndi. “I don’t think that Michael Phelps’ parents were any more proud of him when he won than we were of Rachel; I can’t imagine their response was any more excited than ours.”

Besides swimming, Rachel stays busy by working as a teacher’s aide at Hidden Treasure Christian School, helping with the RECESS program at the YMCA, volunteering for North Greenville Food Crisis Ministry and serving as a counselor at Camp Spearhead, a Greenville County Rec residential camp for youth and adults with special needs.