Swim meet honors late woman

WARREN — The family of Kelly Jo Carlson each year sponsor a Special Olympics swim meet in her memory, bringing swimmers from seven counties together for a day of friendly competition.

Paul and Lois Carlson, parents of Kelly Jo, said the Area 11 memorial swim meet at Warren G. Harding High School featured 150 swimmers from Ashtabula, Columbiana, Mahoning, Portage, Stark, Trumbull and Summit counties and was hosted by the Fairhaven School of Trumbull County.

Kelly Carlson was a competitive swimmer for Western Reserve High School and was a lifelong volunteer for various Special Olympic events on a local and state level.

Family and volunteers — many of whom were teammates of Carlson in high school and friends from college — help each year at the event. Among them are Carlene Whittaker of Mineral Ridge, who said she has helped at most of the 14 swim events held both at Harding High School and Youngstown State University.

”I have known Kelly in high school and college. She was always involved in Special Olympics in Columbus. This event brings swimmers of all ages,” Whittaker said.

Paul Carlson, Kelly’s father, said the event is bittersweet since Kelly was a competitive swimmer in high school and a lifeguard volunteer. ”It has been amazing the outpouring of support we have had for this event to remember Kelly. Everyone helps put this together and grows more and more,” he said.

Swim winners included Adia Bury, 20, of Niles and Rachel Dennison, 26, of Columbiana.

”I feel really good,” Bury said of her first place finishes. “I did well in relay. Swimming is my favorite sport.”

Dennison said she has been swimming for Special Olympics for the past eight years and scored well in relay breastroke and freestroke.

Bo Greene, head swim coach at Fairhaven School in Niles, said there were 22 swimmers from the school at the event.

”This is something they look forward to. It is a state qualifier event,” he said.

Lois Carlson, Kelly’s mother, said she is amazed how many swimmers return each year.

”They are so happy to be here and take part. This event is a way for us to tell Kelly’s story,” she said.

Kelly Carlson passed away in April 2004 and was in the process of completing her master’s degree in business administration at Webster University in San Diego, California.

”We felt nothing would be more appropriate then sponsoring a continuing event in her memory that combined her special interests of athletics and volunteering,” she said.