Michael Love had never been to Disney World, and it made quite the impression on him.
But Love made quite the impression himself on his trip to Florida. He captured silver and bronze medals at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando, showing off his speed and skills in the swimming pool.
Love and his seven swim teammates were part of a collection of 58 Louisiana athletes competing in the games from June 6 to 11. 5,500 athletes in all took part in this year’s games, drawing competitors from all 50 states and the Caribbean.
Love took silver in the 4×50 yard free relay and bronze in the 50-yard butterfly. He also took fourth place in the 100-yard freestyle – despite competing while feeling under the weather that day.
The difference between Love and the 4×50 relay champion was approximately a 100th of a second.
“It felt amazing,” Love said. “The entire experience was amazing. I made some friends from Hawaii, Texas, Nevada … meeting new people was exciting. I was ready to go there, and ready to fight, but also kept an open mind to meeting new people. And it was a blast.
“It was very emotional and overwhelming at the same time … I felt pride, joy, excitement and that all of the sacrifices and hard work finally came together.”
Connie Love, Michael’s mother, got to watch her son earn multiple medals, and she couldn’t be prouder.
“He was swimming every day, two to three hours a day, and working out at the gym for the three months prior to making the trip,” Connie said. “As a team, we brought home 15 medals, and Mikey was a big part of that … we’re so very proud of him, and it’s not over yet.”
It’s indeed not over yet, because Love, who called his Orlando run a dream come true, has a chance to make another dream a reality soon. He wants to represent the U.S. at the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin in 2023. That will come down to a drawing later in the year, and Love hopes to hear his name selected. The time trials take place later this year.
“We should know in the next month or so,” Connie said.
Love said his goal now is Berlin, and he used that as a motivator during his competition in Orlando.
“I told myself, if I win this, I’m going to Berlin,” Love said. “But no matter what, a silver and a bronze, a 4th place … I’m proud of that.”
He enjoyed his time out of the pool as well.
“That was my first time at Disney. I’d never been to the Magic Kingdom … that was a dream come true,” Love said. “I really, really loved it there.”
Love 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 began swimming with the local chapter of the Special Olympics program at the age of 6, and by 8 he was competing.
Love was a four-year member of the Destrehan High swimming team as well. He is a health messenger for the state of Louisiana, a global health messenger and an athlete leader for the Special Olympics.