FARMINGTON — Swimmers from throughout the state gathered at the Farmington Aquatic Center Saturday for the Four Corners Invitational, which is part of Special Olympics New Mexico.

More than 500 athletes participated in golf, softball, aquatics and flag football during the Special Olympics, which began Friday and continue through today.

Participants left the water smiling, and many of them received medals to show off their accomplishments.

Twenty-year-old Mari Spiegel, of Albuquerque, won a gold medal in a relay race on Saturday.

"I'm pretty much an athlete now," Spiegel said. "I'm pretty much a pro."

Spiegel has been swimming since she was a year old.

"We took her there before she even knew what she was doing," said her father, Rob Speigel.

All of the participants shared one thing in common -- a love of water.

David Garcia said his step-daughter, Tomi Sellers, 17, has been swimming for nine years.

"She took to water just amazingly," Garcia said.

Sellers, who has Down syndrome, began competing in Special Olympics gymnastics. The camaraderie is what inspired the family to start participaring in Special Olympics, said Sellers' mother, Taunna Garcia.

Sellers, a senior at Monzano High School in Albuquerque, doesn't let Down syndrome limit her. About three years ago, Sellers decided she wanted to join the high school cheerleaders but was unable to make the team. So Taunna Garcia and other parents helped start a cheer team for students with disabilities.

For some participants, Special Olympics is a natural extension of their therapy.

Angel Trujillo leads athlete Sammy Trujillo in an assisted 25-meter swim race on Saturday during a Special Olympics swimming competition at the Farmington
Angel Trujillo leads athlete Sammy Trujillo in an assisted 25-meter swim race on Saturday during a Special Olympics swimming competition at the Farmington Aquatic Center. (Jon Austria/The Daily Times)

Gallup resident April Shorty started her daughter, Ashley, 10, in water therapy when she was five to help with her cerebral palsy. The mother and daughter participated in the Special Olympics for the first time this year and left with a gold medal.

"I wanted her to have the experience of competing and being around other kids," said April Shorty.

Hannah Grover covers news, arts and religion for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and hgrover@daily-times.com. Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.