Teen brings hard work, determination, team spirit to all she does

Feb. 08, 2014 @ 11:01 AM

Sometimes great things come from having the courage to try something new.

Lucia Romano admitted that when she first got to the pool, “I was afraid I was about to fall,” but she didn’t let that keep her from getting her feet wet. By the time she was 8, Romano was competing in the Special Olympics.
Lucia joined the Carrboro High School swim team this season but has spent most of her life in the pool. Beginning with the Adaptive Aquatics program through Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation by age 6, Romano has gone on to become a strong swimmer, despite the muscle weakness that characterizes Down syndrome.
“When I realized that she was really good at it and that it was good for her health, we dedicated ourselves to swimming, really year-round,” Maria Romano, Lucia’s mother, said. “I think swimming definitely helps with her muscle tone.”
Lucia has Down syndrome, a condition characterized by the presence of a partial or full additional copy of chromosome 21, resulting in altered development. According to the National Down Syndrome Society, common traits of Down syndrome include low muscle tone, small stature and upward slanting eyes.
Before practice, Lucia changes into the black and purple swimsuits like the rest of the swim team and begins practice laps.
“I’m actually liking it,” Lucia said. “All the strokes and the coaches teach us how to do the strokes. The butterfly was the hardest.”
Lucia joined the high school team knowing “that’s a lot of work” but told her coach and mother, “I’m going to give it a try.”
“I was always looking for ways for her to be part of the regular education community and the way is sports,” Maria said. “Lucia needs to be around the regular education population and the social skills she’s gotten have been wonderful.
“Life will not be in a special education classroom,” Maria said.
Colleen Lanigan is the coordinator of the Special Olympics Orange County and has worked with Lucia since she was 5 years old. Lanigan said that Lucia has traits that make her a great athlete.
“Athletes like Lucia are wonderful to coach,” Lanigan said. “She is determined, she works hard at weekly practices and has a great overall team spirit.
“We are proud to have given her the foundation to have strong swimming skills and the opportunity to be involved in our swim meets where she can showcase her talent and push herself to the limit,” she said.
Initially cautious about allowing Lucia to double her swimming to join the high school team, Maria’s fears have subsided with each completed practice and successful meet.
“She never complains,” Maria said. “She’s always eager to come. So that reassures me that we’ve made the right decision.
“She started with 50 meters then built up,” said Maria. “That was a challenge when she went from 50 to 100 meters. She really didn’t complain. Lu is always up for a challenge.”
Before she began swimming laps for her team, Lucia was on the sidelines with pompoms and ribbons in her hair.
“Cheering is my favorite,” she said. “It’s a good thing for me to cheer for my school. I like encouraging my teammates. Yeah, it was awesome!”
She cheered for football and basketball seasons last year and football this school year.
It was through ballet and expressive dance classes that Maria “realized that Lucia could follow all the steps and remember a sequence to a dance.”
And then there was her time on the tennis team.
“Lucia’s wonderful smile and eagerness to learn, play and enjoy tennis was a pure joy to have at our Special Olympics Orange County practices at the Chapel Hill Tennis Club in Carrboro,” said Romano’s tennis coach Rich Green. “She improved so much that she was able to earn a silver medal in singles and partner with Anna Coleman in doubles at Fall State Games.”
In addition to her extracurricular fun, Lucia also has a job. Working part time at Carrboro Pizza Oven on Saturdays, Lucia weighs pasta, prepares salad dressings and serves food.
“She’s great. Fantastic,” said Carrboro Pizza Oven owner Craig Samuels. “She’s eager. She wants to be here. I hope she continues to work here and I hope that she enjoys being here as much as I enjoy having her,” Samuels said.