Destrehan High student, DHS alum will each represent state in Special Olympic National Games

Oneil Legendre and Michael Love.

Oneil Legendre and Michael Love each watched with anticipation a special Facebook stream by Special Olympics Louisiana – it was here they would learn whether either had been selected to represent the state in the upcoming Special Olympics USA National Games this June.

Swimming came up, and so did a photo of Love. Basketball came up, and so did a photo of Legendre. And so, this coming June, both are headed to Orlando, Florida for competition each are now eagerly preparing for.

“Oh, he’s just absolutely ecstatic,” said Connie Love, Michael’s mother. “He’s swimming four to five days a week. He’s getting ready, on a diet, exercising … he’s taking it very seriously. And we’re just so proud of him.”

Michael, 18, was diagnosed with autism as a young child. He was non-verbal until he was approximately 5, but has come so far since then – he now does public speaking and advocates for people with intellectual disabilities. He is set to graduate from Destrehan High School this year and is set to become a freshman in college this fall, with an early eye on Nicholls State University.

He began swimming with the local chapter of the Special Olympics program at the age of six, and by 8 he was competing.

“It’s a natural sport to him – he loves the feel of water,” Connie said. “He says he feels free in the water, and he just goes. He swims, and swims and swims. It’s the best exercise for him, and he loves it.

“So many people think, ‘Well, he’s autistic, he can’t do this or that.’ And he goes out there and just performs. He does all kinds of stuff. He amazes us on how far he’s come and continues to in how far he’s going and going to go.”

Michael was a four-year member of the Destrehan High swimming team as well.

When it came to being selected for the USA team, he was overjoyed.

“He was so excited,” said Connie. “When he saw he was picked, he was cheering … he was pumped up.”

Legendre, 27, won’t be in the pool, but on the basketball court, and he’s pretty elated as well.

“They went through and announced all the athletes … we were waiting, knew it was alphabetical so I was kind of on watch for it when it came up … and his picture popped up and he was beaming from ear to ear. It was an emotional time. I’m so proud of him,” said his mother

Legendre is diagnosed with a mild intellectual disability, but hasn’t let that or anything else stop him. A Destrehan High alumnus, he loves his alma mater and has returned to volunteer with the football and softball teams at the school. He was accepted into the LIFE Program at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette and worked as an equipment manager with the school’s football team.

He’s a well-rounded athlete, having competed in track and field, bocce and swimming as well as basketball.

“He’s really athletic and he likes to get out there. He’s really very perfectionist,” said his mother, Renee. “He’s just got that competitive gene within him. When we moved back to Luling, he wanted to join the bocce team. He’d never done that before and he watched some YouTubes on how to do it. He picked it up and became a bullseye. He competed at the state event and won a gold medal. Anything sports related, Oneil loves.”

He was originally chosen for the team in 2020, but COVID-19 prevented that from ever being realized.

“The coaches back in Lafayette remembered him and that he was going to be on the team,” Renee said. “And they chose him this time, again.”

Both athletes will also have the chance to qualify for the World Games in Berlin, Germany, in their respective sport.

 

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