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Sept. 15, 2012

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On Saturday, Sept. 15, the Virginia men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams, men’s and women’s lacrosse teams, and the wrestling team joined members of the Charlottesville community to participate in the 2012 Gene Arnold Memorial Area 3 Special Olympics Pepsi 10k run.

The 6.2 mile run, or the optional two-mile walk, began and ended in the parking lot of Meriwether Lewis Elementary School in Ivy. Over 500 people participated in the event, including nearly 100 student-athletes. Members of the swim teams, wrestling team, and the women’s lacrosse team, as well as their coaches, competed in the event while members of the men’s lacrosse team were in charge of all logistical operations on race day including manning water stations, directing traffic on the open-road course, and serving as timers and motivators at the finish line.

Before the race, the Cavaliers’ two 2012 Olympic gold medalists, senior Lauren Perdue and recent alum Matt McLean (2011), delighted the Special Olympians by meeting with them and posing for pictures.

All of the Cavalier athletes found time to meet the Special Olympians in attendance. Even out on the course, the Virginia athletes cheered on the Special Olympians as they ran past.

“I think it is a great opportunity to do something for other people,” said head women’s lacrosse coach Julie Myers, who encouraged her team to participate while also running the race herself. “Special Olympics has a very special place in my heart. I have a brother who has Down’s Syndrome that was a Special Olympian growing up and [men’s lacrosse head coach] Dom [Starsia]’s family has two Special Olympians. It is just a great way to give back and help people get a little something special from it. We have been a part of it for a long time and we are really proud of that.”

Senior Nick Montes de Oca was the top finisher among the swim team members, coming in with a time of 38:06. Montes de Oca, a participant at the 2012 Olympic Trials in the 200 IM, is much more used to training in the water than on dry land.

“This is way more than we ever run, but it is still a lot of fun,” Montes de Oca said. “It felt good, but it was definitely hard. Really, we love to do community service, so we do it for that. And it does work in with our training. We usually run a little bit at the beginning of the season.”

What wasn’t hard was being ready for an 8 a.m. race on a Saturday morning.

“This was actually a little later than we normally get up for practice,” Montes de Oca said. “Normally we are jumping in the water at 6 a.m.”

For the third year in a row, women’s lacrosse senior Erin Laschinger was the top female finisher in the pack. Laschinger finished second her freshman season, but has now paced the female runners each of the past three years, earning her three-peat with a time of 39:41.

“It was fun,” Laschinger said. “I went out pretty fast, following the other girls. Around mile three, I kind of went out on my own and just ran and enjoyed the morning. I ran in high school, so it is just sort of natural with running. Whenever I run, I just like to run as fast as I can. I get competitive.”

For Laschinger and her teammates, there was one very important lesson they have learned from the event.

“We were complaining about our team doing six miles,” Lashinger said. “But then you think `At least I can run. At least I can do six miles.’ You realize the Special Olympians would give anything to be able to do one day of our lives. When you put it in perspective, it makes it nice. It is a great cause. I know it means a lot to our coach and the men’s coach. It’s showing our support.”

2012 was the 29th running of the 10k race, which is the area’s largest Special Olympics fundraiser of the year. The money raised from the event helps supplement local Special Olympics programs throughout the year, such as soccer, swimming, bowling and track and field.

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