Whether as speaker or swimmer, Butler woman excels

| Sunday, July 7, 2013, 12:11 a.m.

Kristen Lindsey is an award-winning swimmer and accomplished public speaker. She also has Down syndrome.

As a Global Messenger for the Special Olympics, Lindsey, 37, of Butler serves as a spokeswoman to recruit athletes and volunteers, and to raise money for the program. Every two years, Special Olympics selects just 12 athletes to train for the Global Messenger program.

As a result of her talks, Lindsey also is changing people's perceptions about people with disabilities.

“People are so receptive,” said Lindsey, the winner of more than 132 gold medals in swimming. “People are coming to realize that people with disabilities are more like them than they think.”

Melody Geer, Lindsey's swim coach for the past three years, said Lindsey “absolutely loves to swim.”

“She's very good, and she works very hard at it,” Geer said. “She's very competitive, which is OK. You've got to be a little competitive if you're going to race.”

Lindsey was recruited to be a Global Messenger eight years ago because of her speaking ability — quite an accomplishment for someone who wasn't expected to speak much at all.

“When she was born, her doctors said, ‘Don't expect much, she'll have limited speech,'” said her mother, Mary Ann Lindsey. “But I was a teacher, and I would not accept that.”

Kristen Lindsey worked extensively with speech therapists over the years. Mary Ann Lindsey said she also worked with her daughter to improve her speaking skills.

“She was always a go-getter, and that's how she really learned,” she said.

In 2010, Kristen Lindsey's determination guided her through hip replacement surgery. She made a full recovery and went on to win her 109th gold medal at the Special Olympics that year.

“It doesn't stop her,” Mary Ann Lindsey said. “She just swims as hard as ever.”

Kristen Lindsey said she has spoken to crowds to promote the Special Olympics. She said she once spoke at Penn State in front of 6,000 people.

Geer, whose son has Down syndrome and competes in the Special Olympics, said Kristen Lindsey's success sends a positive message to others with disabilities.

“She likes to spread that message — that you can succeed and that you can be good at something if you have limitations in other areas,” she said.

“Even when my son was born, there were preconceived notions about what he would be, how he would be and what he could do,” Geer said. “And Kristen, because she's so articulate, always gives people pause — ‘Oh, this is not what I expected from someone with a mental disability.'”

Rachel Farkas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-779-6902 or rfarkas@tribweb.com.

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