Two local coaches celebrate triathlon success at Special Olympics

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Ocean City's Lisa Rumer and Carrie Merritt coached the first-ever triathlon team for the New Jersey Special Olympics. The team competed against athletes from across the nation last month at Nationals, hosted in New Jersey. The first place male and female in the event were from New Jersey. 
Ocean City's Lisa Rumer and Carrie Merritt coached the first-ever triathlon team for the New Jersey Special Olympics. The team competed against athletes from across the nation last month at Nationals, hosted in New Jersey. The first place male and female in the event were from New Jersey. OCEAN CITY —Coaching a team of 16 athletes for the 2014 Special Olympics national games, coaches Carrie Merritt and Lisa Rumer knew it would be a very memorable experience for the competitors, especially because it was the first time the event included the triathlon.

The coaching duo did not expect that it would have such a powerful impact on them.

“Lisa and I are officially hooked on Special Olympics, it was the most memorable experience of our lives,” said Merritt.

They coached the New Jersey team and two of their athletes, 16-year-old Noah Dellas and 25-year-old Amy Noctor, won gold medals, finishing first overall for men and women respectfully among athletes from across the nation.

“It was awesome,” said Merritt. “It was a hard working week but such a rewarding week, just incredible.”

Rumer, who works as a program supervisor for the city’s community services department and Merritt, a kindergarten teacher at the Ocean City Primary School, were joined by Greg Merritt, Carrie’s father.

“It became a real family event,” said Merritt. The athletes ranged in age from 13 to 33. With varying athletic abilities and endurance levels, it was a challenge but one Merritt said they immediately grasped.

“We had them swimming in open water, running on the roads,” said Merritt, adding that numerous volunteers joined the effort along the way. “We had eight boys and eight girls, and we started training in late October.”

The Special Olympics organization selected New Jersey to host the 2014 national games last year, and Merritt said it was amazing to be a part of it. The triathlon was included this year as an exhibition event.

Karen Pratz, aquatic director for the Ocean City Aquatic and Fitness Center, who coaches the Ocean City Stingray swim team and served as an assistant to the director of the New Jersey Special Olympics, said was it was exciting that New Jersey played host.

“New Jersey has a long history of being involved with the Special Olympics,” she said. “Every four years the international games are hosted and every two years, the national games are hosted. It’s very, very big that New Jersey had the opportunity.”

More than 3,500 special athletes converged across New Jersey for the 2014 games, held from June 14-21 to participate in a wide variety of Olympic style team events and individual sports. The athletes were accompanied by more than 1,000 coaches and 70,000 more family members, friends and other supporters. Pratz said the events require the assistance of 10,000 volunteers. 

The triathlon, Pratz said, had the Ocean City community fired up.

“Lisa and Carrie did an awesome job,” she said. “New Jersey athletes did very well, it was a lot of fun.

“They offer a plethora of sports, but for some reason they have not had the triathlon,” she said.

Ocean City had some eager athletes, so it was big news when the triathlon was included. The long process included qualifying events, and the local athletes needed a coach.

“So I called Carrie and Lisa,” she said. Both have competed in triathlons across the country and have coached numerous youth sports.

They traveled all over the state to train once the team was picked, working with the athletes in all aspects of the triathlon.

“It’s really cool,” said Rumer, adding that it was exciting sharing their love of the sport with the athletes.

Merritt said they “spread their love of the triathlon” across New Jersey as they trained.

“It was incredible, to see them develop the same love that Lisa and I have for it,” she said.

Triathlons are a multi-dimensional sport and quite competitive, Rumer said. Their goal was to prepare the athletes, to get them used to all aspects of the competition.

The triathlon includes a quarter mile swim, a 12-mile bike ride and a 5K, or 3.2-mile run.

“Noah is just one of those guys you tell him to swim and he swims, you tell him to run or bike and he does it,” she said. “He loves to train.”

After months of training, the weeklong event was a bonus for the athletes and the coaches.

“Most of the other sports competed for five days, we only competed one day, so we had a lot of time to get to know the other athletes and watch the other sports compete and cheer for them,” she said. “Once they connect they remember each other. It was really cool.”

“The sportsmanship was one of the coolest things we have ever seen,” said Merritt. “The athletes clapped and cheered, you saw high fives,” she said. “You don’t often see that kind of sportsmanship.”

Pratz said many people echoed the sentiment.

“One man said he had never witnessed a more profound example of sportsmanship and camaraderie, cheering, hugging and joying over each other’s accomplishments,” she said.

Pratz said the competitive drive was every bit as intense and inspiring as any other marathon, road race or triathlon. People commented that they were reminded that the desire to prove one’s self on the competitive field is universal, and universally valuable. 

“Everybody was so excited,” she said. “There were some athletes I was not sure would finish, but when they got out there, there was no stopping them.”

The opening ceremony was inspiring, she said.

“There was not a dry eye,” she said. “It was pretty neat, overall when you see what the athletes can accomplish. When they push it to the limit and cross the finish line, it’s very emotional.”

Merritt said the athletes were treated like stars.

“They chartered 70 buses to take the athletes to the Prudential Center in Newark, and they shut down the New Jersey Turnpike!” she said. “There were 40 state trooper cars and they led us in. I’ve been to a lot of sporting events as an athlete, and I was speechless at how well they were treated.”

Pratz said the triathlon was a long time coming.

“As long as I’ve been involved with Special Olympics the athletes go to the competition, they swim, they bike, they run, they do all these events and then they say ‘what can I do now?’ Having the triathlon will really expand their horizons,” she said.

“We’re going to continue to reach out locally, get the team together,” said Rumer, adding that the athletes bonded.  

Merritt said she and Rumer would like to stay involved with Special Olympics, they hope to coach the triathlon team that moves on the international level, if they sponsor it.

“We are all over the officials to do it,” she said.

The participating athletes included Noah Dellas, Daisy Desimone, Courtney Dreyfus, Katie McGee, Christopher McMullen, Christina Barlow, Benjamin Heitmeyer, Roberto Hernendez, Matthew Liu, Amy Noctor, Shubham Prasad, Stephanie Ridilla, William Salliot, Rebecca Scheick and Aimee Tiscione.

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