According to his coach Kate Riley, Saladino has his eyes set on the world Special Olympic games. “It’s a good goal,” she said. “This is Nick’s second year in the advanced division and he is in the top 12 in this division. He has already won gold in the intermediate division, so he would need to win the gold medal in the advanced division to move on to the world games. That would be the next step.”
Saladino, who is 20 years old, lives in Jacksonville with his parents, Nekki and Joseph Saladino, as well as his siblings, Joe, Dylan, and Peter. Saladino attends Franklin County Technical School in the pre-employment program. Nick was born with Down syndrome and has been participating in the Vermont Special Olympics for six years.
Riley, who works with fellow coaches Corey Robinson and Scott Serota, said she loved being a coach for competitors in the Special Olympics. “It’s a lot of fun,” she said. “It’s one of the best weekends for the coaches, it’s incredible, uplifting. Its just one of those experiences that everyone should have. I have watched him improve greatly over the six years that he has been doing this. You are working with an athlete with a cognitive disability.” She also said that it was good to do work where she could see her students receive other benefits besides the obvious athletic ones. “You are giving them a chance at experiencing what it is like to have teammates, and to compete with their peers. It’s really amazing to be part of.”
While the games are competitive, Riley said they also have given Saladino the opportunity to mentor other athletes, which he has done with enthusiasm and kindness. “We have three guys on our team. All three are very enthusiastic, but this year is the first for one of them, and he was just learning how to run the gates. In contrast, the other two can ski all over the mountain, and they were doing so when Nick said, ‘Hey, we have to go back and check on him’ (the newest member of the team). They have really taken him under their wing.”
Riley said that the families of the athletes also benefit from the experience. “Their families come to these events. Nick has been going to his brothers’ events, and now they are coming to his.”
For more information about Special Olympics see www.specialolympics.org.