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Local swimmer returns home with two medals

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Special Olympics medalist, Joseph Cline, center, is shown with his volunteer coaches, Leela Boozer, left, and Jill Boozer.

Upon meeting Joel and Anne Cline’s son, Joseph, it’s obvious his two favorite colors are gold and bronze, in that order.

Recently, the 17-year-old swimmer from Elba won the Gold Medal in the 200-Yard Individual Medley and brought home the Bronze in the 100-Yard Backstroke as part of Team Alabama in the 2022 Special Olympics U.S.A. Games held at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Florida.

As a Gold Medalist, Joseph, the youngest member of Team Alabama, coached by Dawn Smith, is entered into a lottery from which will be chosen athletes for the U.S. team that will compete in the Berlin Games in June 2023.

Cline began competitive swimming four years ago.

“One of Joseph’s friends got chosen to compete in Seattle four years ago and Joseph told me, ‘I want to do that,’” said the swimmer’s smiling mother.

The medalist did his training at Fort Rucker with the Wiregrass Aquatics Year-Round Club, at Dothan’s Westgate Park and in the Enterprise YMCA pool.

“He made the team right away,” Anne Cline beamed. “There are four athletes and two coaches on his swim team and 130 athletes on Team Alabama. With coaches included, 215 Alabamans represented the state.”

Joseph trained diligently for his two events.

In the weeks leading up to the Orlando trip, Cline practiced 4-5 days a week and sometimes twice daily with mother/daughter volunteer coaches, Jill and Leela Boozer, by his side.

Leela is Joseph’s techniques’ coach, and lifelong friend since they were babies being home-schooled together.

Like most other areas of American life, Special Olympics events were scratched by COVID-19.

Joseph and his Team Alabama mates missed two years of competition, but he continued swimming, training with his coaches nearby.

When asked what part of swimming and the competitions he enjoyed most, Joseph quickly answered, “All of it! It’s all fun! Swimming is fun, and I made lots of friends, and I’d do it all over again.”

Athletes during the recent Orlando event didn’t spend all their time competing. They spent one day at Disney’s Magic Kingdom, plus they explored the Animal Kingdom.

Joseph said that was fun, too.

So, what’s next for the champion swimmer?

Like other Special Olympics athletes, Joseph is patiently waiting to learn if he’ll be heading to Berlin next year.

Meanwhile, the Fort Rucker Swim Team re-starts in late Summer.

Note: At the end of our visit, Joseph shook this reporter’s hand and said, “Thank you!” Truthfully, “Thank you, Joseph.” It’s not every day a writer gets to shake hands with an Olympic Gold Medalist.

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