Juneau swimmers bring home gold from Special Olympics World Games

Christine Quick, 23, and CJ Umbs, 21, competed in the Special Olympics World Games in L.A. (Photo by Michelle Umbs)
Christine Quick, 23, and CJ Umbs, 21, competed in the Special Olympics World Games in L.A. (Photo by Michelle Umbs)

Two Juneau swimmers returned from the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles with five medals. CJ Umbs and Christine Quick competed alongside 6,500 athletes with intellectual disabilities from around the world.

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Juneau swimmer Christine Quick says Michael Phelps is taller than she thought he was. The most decorated Olympic athlete of all time took pictures with Special Olympians and jumped in the pool for a swim.

“What was that like?” I asked.

“Happy,” Quick says. “Our team was crazy to see him.”

Quick earned two gold medals and a seventh place finish in backstroke and freestyle events. She says the cheering from the crowd helped motivate her. She’s never received so much attention.

“Everybody said, ‘Yay!’ People took pictures of us,” Quick says.

CJ Umbs is another Juneau swimmer. He received gold, silver and bronze medals, and a fourth place ribbon in backstroke and freestyle events. His mother Michelle Umbs is a coach for Juneau’s Special Olympics program.

“The finish on the fourth place ribbon and the finish on the silver medal, he was just as happy as a clam both times,” Umbs says. “It didn’t matter. He was just so glad to finish.”

Umbs was in L.A. for the games with her husband and other family members. She watched every event her son and Quick competed in.

“The whole week was amazing watching both of them act independently and responsibly. But to see them both as young adults get up on a stage, accept their medals in an environment where they were treated with a lot of respect is over the top for me,” Umbs says.

CJ Umbs and Christine Quick were part of Team USA with fellow Alaska athletes Garrett Stortz from the Mat-Su and Brittany Tregarthen from Kodiak. Stortz competed in golf and Tregarthen in powerlifting.

All four Alaska athletes medaled, but Jim Balamaci says competing in the Special Olympics isn’t about winning.

“It’s really about doing your personal best and really performing and training,” says Balamaci, president and CEO of Special Olympics Alaska.

Prior to 1968, people with intellectual disabilities didn’t have a sports organization.

“Now, almost 50 years later, we transcend the world,” Balamaci says. “People with intellectual disabilities can achieve and that through sports, there’s no better way of gaining friendships and confidence that come back to your community and to your school.”

Both Juneau athletes get to take a short break from training as they enjoy the afterglow of the World Games. Quick will start swimming again in the winter and Umbs will start bowling in a few weeks.