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Special Olympian Lee Scharf is enjoying his one-week reprieve over the holidays from his normal four-day-a-week swim practices.
At the start of the new year, it will be back to business for the 43-year-old Pompano Beach resident as he prepares for the upcoming Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando this June.
There will be over 5,500 athletes from all 50 states and the Caribbean competing in 19 athletic events. There will be over 20,000 volunteers helping out the athletes at the various venues in Orlando.
Scharf is one of the most decorated athletes in Pompano Beach and has been collecting awards over the years on the world, national and Florida stage. Besides the sport of swimming, he has competed in snow skiing, surfing, paddle boarding, basketball, volleyball, running and just about every sport in which he has an interest.
Scharf has maintained a competitive drive that has resulted in numerous gold medal performances. Having competed in two Special Olympics World Games, he has won silver while swimming in Shanghai, gold in the ocean swim in Dubai, and completed in the ocean swim from St. Kitts to Nevis.
Scharf medaled in a number of events and in 2008 he became a world record holder. He has also competed in the Cayman Islands Flower Seas Swim, Miami Swim Series five times and the Power Challenge in Pompano five times.
Scharf will have plenty of familiar company with other Broward Special Olympians attending the USA Games. Broward teammates in the open water swim are Julie Finlon, Gina Grant and Gianni Mercado. The team will be joined by members from Miami, Polk County and Orlando. In the pool competition, Broward Special Olympian Paul Bourgeois will be competing in the 25-meter freestyle, 25-meter backstroke and the relay. Fernando Nunez is diligently training for competition in the 200-meter freestyle, 200-meter butterfly and the relay.
The Special Olympics USA Games happens every four years and this is the first time that Orlando will be hosting the big event after previous stops in Syracuse and Iowa. In the Open Water Swim event, members from the West Orange High School swim team will be swimming buddies during the one-mile race at Lucky Lake.
For the last 15 years, Scharf has been a member of the Pompano Beach Piranhas USA Swim Team. He has thrived under the coaching of former U.S. Olympian and world record holder Jesse Vassallo and Piranhas instructors.
“Lee has been swimming with us for a long time and is a big part of our program,” Vassallo said. “Everybody knows him and he knows everyone. It’s great to have him around. We’ve had a couple generations come and go but Lee sticks around. He swims around 4,000 to 5,000 meters a day, so he’s ready for a 500-meter race and will be ready for the one-mile swim. The kids learn from Lee and they see he has a disability but he gives 100% all the time, he competes and wants to win. He is an inspiration to the other swimmers.”
When Scharf isn’t working out in the pool, he is partaking in some other athletic endeavor. After the completion of the golf season, basketball became the next recreational activity. When he isn’t competing in one of the 21 sports that Broward Special Olympics offers, he can be found working at Publix where he has been employed for the last 15 years.
Scharf’s mother Ann is the Special Olympics head coach for the Open Water Swim Team. The longtime Special Olympics swim coach will be preparing the eight swimmers from Florida for the national competition. Practices will commence in January with an open water swim at the Rickenbacker Causeway. The athletes will be attending training camp in March.
“All our swimmers are on a swimming club and are swimming practically every day so they are getting their workouts in,” Ann Scharf said. “I’ll be assisting some of the swimmers with their stroke.
“There will be athletes from all across the United States, so this is a very big deal. The athletes are very excited.”
‘This too shall pass away’ this famous Persian adage seems to be defeating us again and again in the case of COVID-19. Despite every effort