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Jerritt Covington didn't start swimming until he was about an eighth-grader.

Once he got in the water, the sport came natural to him.

"We kept looking for gills on him. We could have swore he was part fish," Jerritt's mom, Meredith, said.

Meredith and Don Covington fostered Jerritt when he was 7, eventually adopting him two years later. Both parents admitted there were some issues putting him in sports initially, but once they felt he was ready, they took him to the YMCA for swim lessons.

"It was like he almost settled down when he was in the pool and the swimming helped him focus," Meredith said. "He liked the repetition of the strokes and just the quietness of being in the pool."

Covington began swimming with Special Olympics on Team Indiana when he was 13, before taking time off to swim for four years at Valparaiso. He graduated from VHS last year.

"I surprised myself a little bit and realized it was something I could be good at," Jerritt said. "My parents and I saw that I had some natural ability and encouraged me to try the Special Olympics."

He swam varsity as a senior, competing in breaststroke in sectionals.

"We agreed with him swimming in high school because it was a chance to make friends and meet new people," Meredith said. "He actually made some new friends out in Seattle, too, so that was a good takeaway, especially with technology nowadays where they can keep in contact."

After Valpo, it was back to the Special Olympics for the 19-year old, who has seen major success on both the state and national level.

Most recently, Covington was part of the gold-medal 400-yard freestyle relay team at the Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle, also winning two silvers (200 free, 100 breast) and one bronze (100 free).

"That relay was intense, but to win the gold medal made me feel good," he said. "I was mostly going for my fastest times and if I won a medal, it was kind of a bonus. I took gold at the state level in each of my events last year. There was a lot more competition this year and it made me want to go a lot faster and I feel like I did as best as I could."

Covington made sure to make it known that all the races were high performance, meaning the top division.

"Swimming for Team Indiana was cool," he said. "I have a lot of friends on the team. I really liked the weather there in Seattle and the opening ceremony being with all my teammates on stage."

One of his relay teammates, Joe Grooms, is a 28-year old who has competed in the Special Olympics since he was 9. Grooms also swam in high school, his last two years at South Bend Adams.

"I didn't really know Jerritt other than that he did well at the Indiana Summer Games but at the first training camp, we became friends pretty quickly," Grooms said. "He's a fun-loving guy who likes to joke around but he's serious when it comes to the team and swimming. I'd like to think that just doing anything with the Team Indiana swimmers and coaches will be something I'll never forget."

Chesterton native and Special Olympics coach Peter DeWitt raved about his relay anchor, Covington.

"He started putting together everything we've been coaching him," DeWitt said. "He would put pieces of a race together and still had no real competition in Indiana. He's that good. Once he got to the USA games, he was going against swimmers that were every bit as good as him.

"One thing he did really well there was finish. In one of his races, he got that bronze by nine-hundredths of a second because he shot the arm. He did everything he was supposed to do and did everything we asked of him."

DeWitt, 67, grew up in Michigan City, attending Elston before swimming under legendary coach Doc Counsilman at Indiana University. He still swims as part of the Masters Division and has been coaching Special Olympics for close to 14 years after his daughter encouraged him to attend a meet.

"I watched a special athlete that was blind with an intellectual disability dive and then swim 25 yards and that was just amazing to me," he said. "I've always had a love for swimming and to help work with people, and I've been so impressed by how hard these athletes work."

DeWitt's biggest takeaway from Seattle was seeing the relay where Covington was able to hold off a Team California swimmer for the gold, winning by 33-hundredths of a second.

"Just watching that relay you realize how competitive these swimmers are. They aren't just mailing it in, they really want to beat you," DeWitt said. "Some of these athletes were used to 25, 50-yard events and they were doing ones that more than doubled their distance. What they're talking about now with Special Olympics athletes is, 'Don't tell me what I can't do, let me show you what I can do.'"

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Sports Reporter

CJ grew up shadowing his father, Jim, at various prep events and now follows in his footsteps as a sports reporter at The Times. A Purdue University graduate, his allegiances lie with the Boilermakers, Cincinnati Bengals and Cincinnati Reds.