Oneil Legendre and Michael Love each eagerly watched a special Special Olympics Louisiana Facebook feed – this is where they would learn if either had been selected to represent the state at the upcoming Special Olympics National Games. USA in June.
Swimming appeared, along with a photo of Love. The basketball made its appearance, as well as a photo of Legendre. And so, next June, the two will travel to Orlando, Florida for a competition each is now eagerly preparing for.
“Oh, he’s just thrilled,” said Connie Love, Michael’s mother. “He swims four to five days a week. He grooms, diets, exercises… he takes it very seriously. And we are so proud of him.
Michael, 18, was diagnosed with autism as a young child. He was non-verbal until he was around 5 years old, but he’s come so far since then – he now speaks in public and is an advocate for people with intellectual disabilities. He’s set to graduate from Destrehan High School this year and become a college freshman this fall, with an early eye on Nicholls State University.
He started swimming with the local chapter of the Special Olympics program at the age of six and by age 8 he was competing.
“It’s a natural sport for him – he loves the feel of the water,” Connie said. “He says he feels free in the water, and he goes. He swims, swims and swims. It’s the best exercise for him, and he loves it.
“So many people think, ‘Well, he’s autistic, he can’t do this or that.’ And he just goes out and performs. He does all kinds of things. He amazes us how far he’s come and continues to go, how far he’s going and will go.
Michael was also a four-year member of Destrehan High’s swim team.
When it came to being selected for Team USA, he was overjoyed.
“He was so excited,” Connie said. “When he saw he had been chosen, he was clapping… he was fired up.”
Legendre, 27, won’t be in the pool, but on the basketball court, and he’s pretty thrilled too.
“They came by and announced all the athletes…we were waiting, we knew it was alphabetical so I was a bit on the lookout when he appeared…and his picture appeared and he was beaming from ear to ear the other. It was a moving moment. I’m so proud of him,” his mother said.
Legendre is diagnosed with mild intellectual disability, but hasn’t let that or anything stop him. A former student of Destrehan High, he loves his alma mater and has returned to volunteer with the school’s football and softball teams. He was accepted into the LIFE program at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette and worked as an equipment manager with the school football team.
He is a complete athlete, having participated in athletics, petanque and swimming competitions as well as basketball.
“He’s really athletic and he likes to go out. He’s really, really a perfectionist,” his mother, Renee, said. “He just has this competitive gene in him. When we came back to Luling, he wanted to join the petanque team. He had never done this before and he watched YouTubes on how to do it. He picked it up and became a target. He competed in the state event and won a gold medal. Everything related to sport, Oneil adores.
He was initially picked for the squad in 2020 but COVID-19 prevented that from ever happening.
“The Lafayette coaches remembered him and the fact that he was going to be on the team,” Renee said. “And they chose it this time again.”
Both athletes will also have the chance to qualify for the World Games in Berlin, Germany in their respective sports.