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Team USA Olympic Swimmers Visit Troops, Connect with Special Olympians in North Carolina

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

By Joseph Andrew Lee  

Heroes can lift spirits.

For Donovan Mouton, a 23-year-old Special Olympian with Down Syndrome, the experience of meeting his hero — Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer Ryan Lochte — was a moment he’ll never forget.

Donovan is the son of retired Marine Chief Warrant Officer 4 Kenneth Mouton and his wife, Robin, who happens to be the local Special Olympics swim team coach. They live just off Camp LeJeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

As part of USA Swimming’s Athlete Partnership Program, four National Team swimmers — Lochte, Tyler Clary, Claire Donahue and Micah Lawrence — took part in an April 12 USO event to encourage kids and adults to take up swimming as a healthy and positive activity. The Olympians taught swim clinics to several groups of wounded warriors and Special Olympics athletes at the Wallace Creek Fitness Center aboard Camp Lejeune.

“One of things that I enjoy most about being an Olympic athlete is giving back to the community,” Lochte wrote in an email. “I really enjoy doing swim clinics and spending time with the kids working with them in the pool. I am so thankful for all of the men and women who fight for our country and appreciate the sacrifices they make for us.”

Lochte is Donovan’s hero. His favorite strokes are Donovan’s favorites too.

“When the Olympics was on in 2012, if there was a swimming event we were watching it,” Robin Mouton said. “Whoever had a really good night, Donovan would go to his room and pull up YouTube videos to watch the swimmers’ techniques under water.

“I remember there was an interview with Ryan on television and Donovan was just in a trance,” she said. “He became a big fan at that moment and as the Olympics progressed he continued to watch Ryan in every single event.”

When Robin heard Lochte would be at the base as a part of the USO clinic, she kept it a secret from Donovan to see if he would recognize him.

Lochte took their group first into the water, and when Donovan saw his face and realized who he was getting lessons from, “his eyes lit up,” Lochte wrote.

The participants worked on freestyle and backstroke and at the end of the clinic they took a group picture. Lochte showed Donovan one of his Olympic medals and even let him wear it. Donovan gave Lochte a big hug in the water.

When the athletes finally had to leave to go eat, Donovan was the last person left on the pool deck. Lochte noticed Donovan standing alone and walked over and handed him his cap and goggles. Donovan wore that cap all the way home.

“It was really touching that Ryan did that,” Robin Mouton said. “It meant a lot to the [other] parents, to me, and of course to Donovan.

“It is hard to express what the clinic meant to Donovan,” she said. “People joke that if you could have one special event in your life then you could die a happy person. Donovan has been fortunate enough to meet some famous country musicians. He even has a picture of Taylor Swift with her arm around him. He met his favorite group, Rascal Flatts, because of his knowledge of the band. But nothing ever came close to touching his excitement the day of the swim clinic. That was truly a day he will forever cherish.”

“I have always appreciated our military for fighting for our country,” Lochte wrote. “They make so many sacrifices for our freedom. However, actually being there on the base at Camp Lejeune made me appreciate them even more, and working with the Special Olympics kids was very inspiring … Donovan really touched my heart. That moment was very special to me.”

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