Earlier this year, Michael Love called the opportunity to travel to Berlin to compete in the Special Olympic World Games a dream he hoped would soon become a reality.
It’s very real today.
Love, who won silver and bronze medals at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando, was actually selected to compete at the 2023 World Games, where he will be the only athlete from Louisiana to compete and one of just nine swimmers across the country who will be making the journey.
“I was blown away,” Love said of the news. “I never thought it would be me, but it was. I was the one who was chosen.”
The Special Olympics World Games are held every two years, alternating between summer and winter games, a schedule similar to the Olympic and Paralympic Games. With up to 350,000 volunteers and coaches and several thousand athletes, these World Games can be the world’s largest sporting event of the year. The World Games offers more than a week of competitions in which thousands of athletes participate. Media coverage of the Games will bring the stories and achievements of children and adults with intellectual disabilities to the attention of millions of people worldwide.
The 2023 Games will take place from June 17th to 25th.
Michael’s mother, Connie, said she and her husband cried tears of joy when the family got the call.
“It’s been wonderful. You see all his hard work, his dreams, everything you’ve seen over the years, how he went to his swim events and all the hours he put in the pool and it all guides him over here. We were speechless,” said Connie.
She and Love’s brother Daniel will be making the trip – Daniel has long been an inspiration to Michael.
“He talks about his brother being his idol,” Connie said. “He’ll say, ‘My brother always said, ‘If I can do it, you can do it.'”
Daniel is a very accomplished wrestler and his success on the mat is one thing that spurs Love on to knowing the pool well.
“Daniel motivates him and pushes him,” said Connie.
In Orlando, Love and his seven swimming teammates were part of a group of 58 athletes from Louisiana who competed in the games June 6-11. A total of 5,500 athletes attended this year’s games, attracting competitors from all 50 states and the Caribbean.
Love took silver in the 4×50 yard free relay and bronze in the 50 yard butterfly relay. He also placed fourth in the 100-yard freestyle – despite competing with inclement weather that day.
The difference between Love and the 4×50 relay champion was about a hundredth of a second.
“It felt amazing,” Love said. “The entire experience was incredible. I made some friends from Hawaii, Texas, Nevada…it was exciting to meet new people. I was willing to go there and fight, but I was also open to meeting new people. And it was a great time.
The time trials for Berlin will take place in San Antonio later this month. Preparations for this – and for next year’s Games – have already begun.
“He swims at least two hours a day, five days a week,” Connie said. “And he’s a college freshman at Delgado now, out of high school (so he’s dealing with a time constraint). He works out two days a week in the gym and five in the pool.”
Love is dieting to lose weight and increase its speed.
“He’s totally focused on school and swimming,” Connie said.
Love said he used Berlin as a motivator at the USA games.
“I said to myself, if I win that, I’ll go to Berlin,” said Love. “But anyway, a silver and a bronze, a 4th place… I’m proud of that.”
Love was diagnosed with autism as a young child. He was nonverbal until he was about 5 years old, but he’s come this far since then – he now speaks publicly and advocates for people with intellectual disabilities. He began swimming with the local chapter of the Special Olympics program at age 6 and was competing at 8.
Love was also a member of the Destrehan High swim team for four years. He is a health envoy for the state of Louisiana, a global health envoy, and an athlete leader for the Special Olympics.
He’s really looking forward to next summer.
“Just seeing the environment out there…I can’t wait to go,” he said.