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South Bend Cubs make a splash for Special Olympics

Besides playing ball, the South Bend Cubs pride themselves on giving back. For the second year in a row, they made a splash for Special Olympics, which helps hundreds of local athletes get a chance to shine.

In March, the Cubs hosted a Polar Plunge to raise money for the organization.

One plunger from Laville Junior-Senior High School is an athlete himself, and shows why fundraisers like that one are so important.

"Swimming is really making me happy," said Special Olympian Zayn Gunn.

"[He] really found his niche with the Special Olympics swim team," said Zayn's dad, Ryan Gunn.

He says they didn't get his diagnosis for Mosaic Down Syndrome until Zayn had turned 15.

Looking at Zayn, he doesn't exhibit the typical signs of down syndrome.

“There are some learning delays. There are speech delays...It affects different systems, but like he says, he’s just rare. He says he has rare blood, and he is. He’s one of a kind. He’s one in a million," said Ryan.

Laville Junior-Senior High School special education teacher, Tammie Radican, has been teaching these one-of-a-kind kids for 21 years.

“What I’ve learned, and I’ve always had this philosophy, is don’t limit, don’t limit them. Always have an expectation," said Radican.

She certainly expects a lot from her athletes, especially since three years ago, "little old Laville" joined the growing list of unified teams, which is fully funded by Special Olympics.

A unified sport is when students with disabilities and those without compete and train together.

“It gives you a different perspective. Our athletes are people who are born with very great challenges, and they approach life in a positive way that’s contagious, that’s truly contagious," said Buzz Lail, Northwest Regional Manager for Special Olympics Indiana.

"My sons were diagnosed with autism in the late 90s, and it just wasn’t heard of...You spend your whole life raising a kid with a disability, and the thing, you know their limitations and the things they can’t do, and the things that are difficult for them, and so then when they have these opportunities...it just gives so much," said Tammie.

She says she believes the student partners walk away with just as much as the student athletes do.

“I love all of them so much. They’re like best friends to me. I want to be a special education teacher because of this class," said student partner, Laville High School junior Micah Edwards.

"My students on the other hand, get an acceptance; they are encouraged; they learn; they are pushed to be the best that they can be, and they shine," said Radican.

From jumping jacks in the gym to jumping into the pool, Zayn certainly made a splash last year at his first Special Olympics competition.

“I just kept on going, just go forward and just do it, and I was the first person that got a first medal, it was my first time, and I was like what?” said Zayn.

“Oh it was a really proud dad moment, very proud moment. I was definitely the loud dad in the gymnasium," said his dad.

“It’s about seeing this group of kids go up there, and they’re handed a trophy, and they’re celebrated, and that medal’s put on their face, and that stuff, that’s a memory that will last them their entire life, and you feel like you're ten feet tall, and they’re not often celebrated in that regard, and so that’s what it’s about," said Zayn's teacher, Tammie.

She says that's why activities like the polar plunge are so important.

"We’ve plunged two years. In this little school, we’ve raised about $4,500 for Special Olympics these last two years doing the Polar Plunge," said Radican.

When she sees her athletes plunging right alongside the rest of the community members, she says it reminds her of the reason everyone was "freezin'."

The Special Olympics representative said the 16 plunges they do each year will raise over $750,000, which is most of their annual program budget.

This year, the South Bend Cubs' Polar Plunge raised nearly $17,000.

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