KATY MAGAZINE NEWS
August 6, 2021
By Natalie Cook Clark
The Katy Wolf Pack Aquatics Team resumed swim practice this week ahead of the upcoming Special Olympic Season. This will be the 9th season for the Katy-based group that continues to grow each year.
Andrew Heap prepares to compete with some last minute coaching from his dad, Constable Ted Heap. Photo courtesy: Jennifer Heap.
'Excited to be Back and Practice'
The Katy Wolf Pack is a Special Olympics Texas Team. It offers softball, basketball, track and field, bocce ball, golf, bowling, Aquatics, Soccer, and Cheerleading for individuals with intellectual disabilities who live in Katy, Texas and surrounding areas.
“We are excited to get back and practice,” says swim coach Abbie Wylie. The group has grown from having 8 athletes its inaugural season to over 60. Overall, the Katy area has about 300 athletes that compete in various special Olympic sports.
Currently, all enrollment is full.
Last year, like the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Special Olympics was postponed and practices were canceled.
Athletes Find Companionship through Competing
Swimmer Andrew Heap has been competing with the Katy Wolf Pack Aquatics Team since they started 9 years ago. That first season he went on to win 3 gold medals and a bronze.
“What I love most is being able to compete against others and being their friends,” says Andrew Heap.
Andrew’s parents, Constable Ted Heap and Jennifer Heap credit the Katy Wolf Pack for giving Andrew the opportunity to compete and find companionship.
Photo credit: Jennifer Heap
“As an adult with intellectual disabilities, the Katy Wolf Pack has been crucial in giving Andrew the confidence to navigate through a world that is sometimes not so accepting,” says Jennifer Heap. “Not only does Andrew have the opportunity to be with his peers, but he also gets to compete at a high level with people from across the entire state.”
The Heap family says that the shutdown was devastating for Andrew, as it was for so many.
“What many people don't realize is that most of our athletes thrive on interaction and relationships with other people,” says Heap.
Andrew works at Mary Jo Pecham park and was able to keep swimming when a lane open up after his shift. His family says that the group has been a lifesaver for their family.
Mike Iovine has also been swimming with the Katy Wolf Pack from the beginning. He has also earned silver and gold medals with the group.
Supporting Teammates' Accomplishments
“I love being with my Teammates at the practices and the swim meets,” says Mike Iovine. “We have a great group of people who swim on the team and we always support one another's accomplishments.”
“I also enjoy the meets we go to since I have been swimming for a number of years and I have made many friends from other teams who I get to see at the various meets,” says Mike.
Mike’s father, Michael Iovine says that the group has helped Mike to grow into a well-rounded and compassionate individual.
"We knew he was special when we had him, we just didn't realize how special he would turn out to be,” says Iovine in reference to his son’s accomplishments.
The Iovines have a pool in their backyard so Mike was able to continue swimming during the shutdown but he has missed his friends.
“The fact that he is getting a chance to start up again is great and he's really looking forward to it,” says Iovine.
A Positive Environment
Jessica LaPrade is another Katy swimmer that has been with the team since the first season.
“I love swimming my favorite strokes, freestyle and breaststroke,” says Jessica.
“The Katy Wolf Pack has been a wonderful experience for Jessica,” says her mom Susan. “She has met new friends and she is in an environment that provides positivity and encouragement to all the athletes, no matter their level of ability.”
Safety protocols are in place for this year’s season to keep everyone safe and to limit the spread of COVID-19. One of the safety measures put in the place by Special Olympics is that training must be done outdoors. This made the group to seek out options as they have typically had practice indoors.
Cinco Ranch HOA Provides Space
The Katy Wolf Pack will be having swim practice and meets at Cinco Ranch community pools at no cost courtesy of the Cinco Ranch Homeowner’s Association. They are partnering with the Katy Wolf Pack as a not for profit organization.
“Many HOA's get a bad rap these days, but these guys have gone out of their way to make these kids Swim season a reality,” says Susan LaPrade. “With the new COVID restrictions, the Wolf Pack was in search of an outdoor pool. When the Cinco Ranch HOA heard of our need, they opened up one of their pools to be used for practice. Our season would not have been possible without them.”
Swim practice resumed this week. The first area competition is set for October 2.
“We’re passionate with providing athletes of all ages the opportunity to compete and experience all the benefits that come with competition,” says Wylie.
“Competition teaches not only how to be a good winner but more importantly how to lose with grace,” says Heap. “The Special Olympics motto "Let me win but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt" is certainly ingrained in these athletes by all the wonderful volunteer coaches of the Katy Wolf Pack."
Follow The Katy Wolf Pack on their Facebook page.