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Everyone wins at special-needs canoe race

Tania LaTerza, 39, of Wantagh, with help from

Tania LaTerza, 39, of Wantagh, with help from volunteer Roman Aksnes, 52, of Freeport, paddles ahead during a leg of the canoe races organized by the Plainview-based Association for Children with Down Syndrome Tuesday. The non-profit held this year's annual canoe race at the Baldwin Boat Basin, featuring 35 adults who participate in ACDS programs. (August 14, 2012) Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Dan Makar, 38, stood at the edge of the dock at Milburn Creek Park in Baldwin, cheering on his fellow athletes. Makar was in a good mood – he had just come out of the water himself, earning first place in a canoe race around Milburn Creek.

“I’ve been training,” Makar said, smiling. “My arms are my secret weapon.”

On Tuesday, the Association for Children with Down Syndrome (ACDS), a Plainview-based organization that provides lifetime services to children and adults with special needs, hosted its annual adult canoe race in Milburn Creek Park. After training all summer, adult athletes with special needs paired up with ACDS volunteers in a series of two-person canoe races around the creek.

“I felt this need to have this type of one-on-one involvement with the athletes and the volunteers,” said ACDS canoe coach Marianne Endo of Freeport, who oversaw all of the training for the event. “All of our athletes worked hard -- this is a chance for them to show off what they do to the community.”

With a swish of a bright green flag, they were off – five two-man canoes paddled furiously, going through checkpoints marked by blue balloons. On the dock, friends, family and fellow athletes cheered on the participants. Each of the seven race had a different set of athletes.

“I’m so impressed by how good they’ve become,” said ACDS volunteer Jamie Dupas, of Freeport, who participated in the event. “We trained together; I couldn’t even steer with the paddle before this!”

This is the fifth year that ADCS has hosted the event at Milburn Creek Park. At the end, all participants were given certificates of participation, and seven winners were declared. The athletes celebrated with warm hugs and ice cream – a sweet treat to end the night.

“It’s hard to put into words the happiness and excitement the athletes feel,” said ACDS recreation coordinator Erica Lepurage. “But their eyes light up -- you can see it in their faces.”

Above: Tania LaTerza, 39, of Wantagh, with help from volunteer Roman Aksnes, 52, of Freeport, paddles ahead during a leg of the canoe races organized by the Plainview-based Association for Children with Down Syndrome Tuesday. (Aug. 14, 2012)

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