As Andy Miyares propels his body through the water, his breath is steady. In and out. One powerful stroke follows another lap after lap. Legs kick. He gets into a rhythm that can last up to 60 laps.
He is a world-class swimmer, holding the record in the 1,500 meter freestyle, his personal best. He also holds records in the 100- and 200-meter butterfly, his favorite stroke, with the Down Syndrome International Swimming Organization.
“Andy is my name and swimming is my game and Special Olympics is my life,” says Miyares, who was born with Down syndrome and is recording videos on a Lumia 930 and GoPro underwater camera leading up to the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles.
Opening ceremonies are July 25 and will be broadcast live on ESPN, which will also have daily coverage of the Games.
In October, Microsoft announced a three-year, multimillion dollar partnership with Special Olympics to modernize the nonprofit’s software and games management system and elevate it to the cloud.
Miyares is one of four athletes Microsoft is following as they train, travel to and try to achieve their personal best in the World Games.
Growing up in Florida, it’s not unusual to take to water. And it didn’t take long for this Miami native to show his affinity for it.
The youngest of five children, Miyares, 32, has been in the water since he was nine months old. His mother Ana enrolled him in a training program as an alternative to physical therapy, which was supposed to help him with his weak muscle control, particularly in his arms and neck. He hated the PT, his mother says, and would scream throughout the exercises.
But after three weeks in the pool, Andy Miyares already loved going underwater, blowing bubbles and learning to swim. He also learned to crawl about a month after his first plunge in the water – and swimming taught him how to count and pace himself. Now he’s in the pool at least two hours a day.
“Sports has given me the ability to know that I can do anything I want to do,” he says. “I like to be in water, every morning, every afternoon and every day.”
At the age of 8, two years after he started swimming competitively, Miyares began his career with Special Olympics. He’s won hundreds of medals and broken dozens of records since then. In 2009, he met Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps in Phelps’ hometown of Baltimore, where they swam laps as part of an exhibition event. In recent years, Miyares has taken up mile-long open water competitions and placed in the top 10 by U.S. Masters Swimming – the only swimmer with an intellectual disability to have done so. He’ll be competing in the one-mile open water race in Long Beach during the upcoming Special Olympics World Games.
More than 6,500 athletes from 170 nations will compete in 25 events at the 2015 World Games. Miyares wants to come home with the gold and hopes to reconnect with friends from all over the world there. And always by his side, especially near the starting block, is his mother.
“C’mon Andy go! Kick, kick, kick!” his mother yells as he does his laps, “Go Andy go!”
Both through Special Olympics competitions and as an international Special Olympics Global Messenger since 2010, Miyares has traveled around the world, to Morocco, Greece, Italy and China, just to name a few countries.
The Global Messenger program teaches public speaking to Special Olympics athletes like Miyares, who teaches swimming to children and speaks out for athletes with disabilities everywhere.
“In Miami, I speak to schools. I tell them to not say the R-word (retard) anymore,” he says.
And when he’s not in the water or spreading the word about Special Olympics, he loves to show off his Latin heritage by dancing, working for the director of a private special needs school and spending time with family and friends.
“I’m a happy person,” Miyares says. “I have everything I want.”
“His life has been more than any dream,” says Ana Miyares. “I never dreamed all this would ever happen, not with my little boy. My hopes were that he would read and write, and walk, and here we are. It’s the biggest blessing I could have ever received.”
Learn more about the athletes and the upcoming Special Olympics World Games.