My Road to Orlando USA Games 2022

By Elaina Camacho

I go by Raven Swimmer in my emails, but my real name is Elaina Camacho. I am 32 years old and I have been a Special Olympics Maryland (SOMD) athlete for over 24 years. My sports are swimming, golf, basketball, soccer, snowshoe, kayaking, equestrian and cross country skiing. I live at home with my mom, dad and older brother.

On a typical day I hang out with my dogs and spend time outside. During the pandemic, I hang out with my friends through video calls. I am currently job searching–I would like to have a job at an office as a business administrator. I have past experience working in an office and I took courses in business administration at the local community college.

Special Olympics is really a big part of my day, especially now that we’re finding more opportunities to reach out to recruit more athlete leaders. I became an athlete leader last year and now I help out–and serve as a mentor–at training courses (intro to leadership and understanding leadership). Athlete leaders demonstrate leadership on and off the playing field. We are there for our fellow athletes, and when, for example, they have a bad day, we try to talk to them and turn their frown upside down. We are the face of Special Olympics and our main goal is to spread our story. Together with another athlete leader (a good friend) I sit on the Mid-Atlantic Council for Athlete Leadership and the US Council.

As athlete leaders, we go to Capitol Hill Day every year, meet with our congressmen and senators, and tell them our story and why we need their support. We need that support because one of the key things is that athletes don’t have to pay a penny.

Before I became an athlete leader, I was just an athlete, but I did try to show up at fundraisers. And then I decided that I wanted to be more than an athlete. In 2014 I took a course on being a global messenger, and my goal is to, one day, become a Sergeant Shriver Global Messenger. There are only ten in the world. I am hoping to apply soon.

I have also been on the Law Enforcement Torch Run Council as an athlete ambassador here in Maryland since 2018, and I got to travel to the international torch run conferences in Las Vegas and in Colorado. It was history-making to be selected as the athlete ambassador because I was the first woman athlete ambassador.

Now about soccer. I have been playing soccer for 24 years. Until last year our team was called the Pink Ladies.

A while back, my dad received a phone call from our area director that we were selected to go to the USA Games in Orlando next year. We immediately called all the teammates and we were all in shock that we got chosen. I don’t think we will realize that we got chosen until we get there next year. We celebrated with our family members and we were all crying tears of joy. We are now the Team Maryland Golden Nuggets (or Nuggies for short) as we added a guy to our team.

My dad has been coaching soccer for about five years. That is both tough and fun at the same time. Sometimes I worry that I have to work harder since I’m his daughter but that isn’t really the case. I also don’t receive special treatment. We are not about that, favoritism. In fact, some of my teammates address him as “dad” as well!

On Halloween, we went to the Soccer Championships in Salisbury, Maryland. That’s the last official event of the season. We had some additions to our team, so it wasn’t just the Team Maryland Golden Nuggets. My dad brought some tarps, as it had been raining, and a wagon full with snacks, water and even extra socks. This is our way of spreading kindness to our team.

After all team members have arrived we walk over to the opening ceremony. This photo shows how close friends we are–not just with each other, but also with the other teams.

As the official Team Maryland soccer team, we are asked to do the athlete’s oath. In this photo, we are doing the athlete’s oath, and this photo really shows the whole team bonding and our friendship.

We always do warm-up stretches before each game (photo left). It’s normally led by an athlete–we take turns doing that. Our bond is so close.

I am a floater player. I can play any position. I prefer offense (photo middle). In the photo on the right, we’re on the sideline giving each other pointers. It really shows our camaraderie.

We were happy with how the game went. We didn’t win, but we did our best and had fun. We won the bronze! The medals we received are special medals to celebrate the 50th birthday of SOMD. They are very coveted.

The soccer season is now officially over, but we will continue training for the USA Games. We will be focusing more on endurance. Last week, a few of us met at the mall and walked laps around the mall for 90 minutes. One of our assistant coaches was able to find an indoor racquetball place where we can practice in the winter months. Then, next spring, we will find some nearby fields to practice and invite some other teams to do some mock games and scrimmages.

We need to raise a lot of money and are doing that with the other Team Maryland athletes in Anne Arundel County going to the Games. We also have our own individual pages and I do that by writing letters to friends and family.

We are very excited to be going to the Games. I look forward to cheering on my fellow Team Maryland athletes and meeting new friends. And of course one of the big things is pin trading. And maybe, maybe… we can go to one of the theme parks.


Photos by Marleen Van den Neste and Steve Ruark for Special Olympics Maryland