RICHMOND, Va. -- In his 15 years as a swimming coach with Special Olympics, Richard Koch has taught roughly 20 to 30 kids each year how to be better in the water. They've taught him a few things too.
"Patience," he said. "They're not going to get it the first time You have to figure out a way to communicate that is more than just saying the same thing over again louder and slower."
Like any athlete, progress can be incremental at times. But the payoff can be far more rewarding.
"I've had several athletes tell me that as a coach, I'm the first person that didn't give up on them," Koch said. "We taught them how to hit a baseball. We taught them how to swim in a swimming pool."
Lilly Williams grew up going to the pool but has only been training as a competitive swimmer for about a year.
"What I was nervous about was they wanted them to swim the length of the pool and back. I was a little concerned about that because when we're in the pool, we're bobbing around recreationally," Lilly's mom Susan said.
Her mom shouldn't have worried.
Lilly's got this.
"But that first practice, she surprised all of us. She was down and back in a flash," Susan said.
Lilly will compete in three races at the State Games without a hint of apprehension at approaching her first big meet.
"Once you get confidence, and that's probably a lot of what we do, is we build enough confidence in them that they can be better. Once they learn they can be better and get better, the door opens and things happen that you didn't expect," Koch said.
Lilly uses that confidence in her day job as a technology assistant in Human Resources for the Virginia Department of Education.
She knows everyone by name and they all know her.
"Her ability to develop relationships with other people and reach out to all of the offices and departments here at the agency which employs hundreds of people is really key. And she takes that responsibility very seriously," Dr. Samantha Hollins, the VDOE Assistant Superintendent for Special Education, said.
"She is that kind, wonderful, happy person, and she brings that everywhere she goes," her mother said.
Lilly is one of the hundreds of examples that show what Special Olympics brings out in not only their athletes but in those who live and interact with them.
"It's a wonderful thing for a parent, a coach to see that we've made an improvement and this might just change everything," Koch said. "They've realized that there's something they couldn't do yesterday that they can do today and what else can they do tomorrow."
"Lilly's passion for sports and extracurricular development outside of work is a great way to remind folks there's so much more we can do to support individuals in our community," Hollins said.
Susan Williams called her daughter a blessing to the world.
"She gives us all a little more patience, a little more joy," she said. "If you're wondering about how you're going to make a contribution, that is hers. She is an amazing person."
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