A 17-year-old from South New Jersey hit the water first at Alamitos Beach in Long Beach and never looked back, winning the triathlon that kicked off the 2015 Special Olympics World Games on Sunday.
Noah Dellas took just under an hour and 13 minutes (1:12:58) to complete the half-mile swim, 20 kilometer bike, and 5k run.
Asked in the finishing chute how he felt, Dellas replied simply, "OK." It was his second thrill of the weekend, after seeing his swimming inspiration, Olympic legend Michael Phelps, at Saturday night's opening ceremonies at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Coach Lisa Rumer, who trained all four Team USA members in the international field of 22, recalled Dellas’ shyness during the first few months after he began training.
"As he understand that we cared and wanted him to succeed, and he started to create goals because he knew he could do it, that's when he branched out and really took hold of his passion," Rumer said.
Among the women, New Jersey teammates Amy Noctor, 27, and Courtney Dreyfus, 18, finished second and third, respectively.
The Special Olympics were created for athletes with intellectual disabilities, such as Asperger's and Downs syndrome. There is a broad spectrum among the 6,500 athletes who have come from 165 nations. The World Games are being held in greater Los Angeles for the first time in four decades.
In a tent cooling off after their race, Noctor and Dreyfus both spoke of how the Special Olympics movement has helped them overcome challenges they face and broadened their daily lives.
"You can just be you. You don't have to hide anything and you can push beyond your boundaries," said Dreyfus.
Amy's parents dedcribed the progress they've seen in her.
"Amy does not make a lot of friends on her own, but when she comes here she meets a lot of people and talks to them," said Mathew Noctor, Amy's father.
"She's become more independent, more sure of herself," said Heidi Noctor, Amy's mother.
"It's given me a life. It's the best part of my life right now," said Amy.
"Amen," added her father.
The first ever World Games triathlon featured another innovation: allowing non-Special Olympic athletes on the course as a "unified" event. Pro Triathlete Heather Jackson said it proved mutually inspirational for both groups of athletes. Jackson also marveled at the enthusiasm of the fans in the finishing chute - "more than for some pro triathlons," she said.
Among team sports, beach volleyball was also unified, enabling some non-Special Olympic athletes to play on the same team. The initial reaction of spectators was positive.
"I just think it's a great idea," said volunteer Tracy Lambert.
Events continue across the Southland through next weekend.