KAILUA-KONA — As Ben Finestone reached Kamakahonu Beach, he removed his goggles, found his footing and smiled from ear to ear.
After three races, more than 3 miles of swimming and countless hours of training, Finestone — a 16-year-old Kealakehe student with Down Syndrome — had reached his lofty goal of becoming a Triple Crown finisher, completing the grueling gauntlet of the Cinco de Mayo Splash (1-mile), Hapuna Rough Water (1-mile) and Kings’ Swim (1.2-mile).
The crowd on the beach went wild as Finestone — a gold medalist with the Special Olympics West Hawaii Sharks swim team — sprinted up the sand, stopping the clock at 1 hour, 6 minutes and 19 seconds, shattering his target time and becoming the first Special Olympics athlete to complete the Triple Crown.
Finestone swam with his mom, Margaret, and coach Christine O’Gorman-Embernate. Both exploded with joy watching Ben zoom through the finish line.
“There was so much pride and excitement in that moment,” Margaret Finestone said. “It was an amazing ride. It was such a neat thing for a son and mom to do together. And the community here is amazing. Everyone has been so supportive.”
“How do you explain it? It’s just so incredible,” added O’Gorman-Embernate. “He just put his head down, pushed through and was so focused.”
Margaret said they started small, doing the free, local Peaman events, eventually expanding their training to involve longer swims in Kailua Bay. Ben also swims with the Kona Dolphins.
“I always had a vision of him being very active,” Margaret Finestone said. “I wanted to find something that he could do his whole life, and swimming is definitely that. It’s phenomenal that he can go in the open water and there’s not that fear factor at all. One thing we are working on is his technique, but he’s getting there.”
Margaret, Ben and dad, Justin, moved from Oregon to Kona three years ago and the ocean has been a huge part of their lives since.
“We wouldn’t have had this opportunity in Oregon, so we are very grateful he’s able to do it here,” Margaret said. “He just loves it and has done really, really well.”
The trio expect to be back next year to improve on their time. But down the road, there’s hope that Ben could compete at the Special Olympics World Games in the event. Open water swimming debuted at the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens, and Ben has proven to be more than capable of taking on the challenge if his number is called.
“Who knows,” Margaret said with a big smile. “Maybe, someday we will get lucky enough to see him there.”