BROOMALL, Pa. -- "Who knows, you may be really good at a certain sport," said 15-year-old Matthew Bakalorz. "All you have to do is give it a shot and then maybe you'll win a gold medal."
Bakalorz, a 10th-grade student from Havertown, Pennsylvania, listened to his own advice earlier this year. He took his swimming skills to the Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando, Florida. He made quite a splash, earning gold in the 100-yard freestyle, sixth in the 50-yard backstroke and fourth in the 50-yard freestyle.
"I saw my time on the scoreboard was really good and I had won," he said. "That was just amazing."
Bakalorz's coach, Kathryn Mckeone, couldn't be more proud of his growth and success.
"I love to watch Matthew swim. I remember when he was learning to swim when he was younger," she said. "Through his Crohn's disease, he had a lot of hardship and a lot of pain."
According to Coach Mckeone, swimming can benefit the cardiovascular system and is easy on the joints. It's also a sport that athletes can stick with through adulthood. That makes it a popular choice for the special needs community.
More than 13,000 athletes are part of Special Olympics Pennsylvania, which offers activities year-round across 22 sports. At the USA Games, 122 athletes and 33 coaches from Pennsylvania scored a collective total of 99 medals. Among them, 35 were gold medals.
It was one of many crowning moments that underscores the importance of the Special Olympics and its volunteers.
"Our athletes don't pay anything to participate in opportunities and so we need people to help us with financial support as donors," said Matt Aaron, President & CEO of Special Olympics PA. "We would love for people to come out and be coaches. We just ask people to come get involved with us."
In the future, Bakalorz hopes to continue swimming with the Special Olympics and eventually win a gold medal at the World Games.