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Special Olympics picks NKY swim coach to lead its World Team

Debbie Ogden 2.jpg
Ann Thompson
The Northern Kentucky Special Olympics Dolphins practice at Northern Kentucky University.

Poolside at Northern Kentucky University’s Recreation Center, Debbie Ogden yells, "Big arms! Big arms!" as she coaches a member of the Special Olympics Northern Kentucky Dolphins, who swims the backstroke. Ogden is about to get a lot busier.

She has just been named Special Olympics World Team Swim Coach for the U.S., and will leave for Germany in June. Nine swimmers from across America will compete.

Ogden is no stranger to the national stage. She’s already coached the USA Games. A handful of her local swimmers took gold during those games, including Justin Hale and Maddie Brinkman.

Debbie Ogden 1.jpg
Ann Thompson
Coach Debbie Ogden does time trials for swimmers Justin Hale and Maddie Brinkman. Even though they are not going the Special Olympics in Berlin, both won medals at the Orlando USA Games in 2022

The Dolphins are in the process of building back up. The team numbered more than 100 pre-COVID, and is now about 55-60.

At the Dolphins practice Saturday, Ogden didn't want to talk about herself, but her team did.

"I think Coach Debbie earned that Coach of the Year and for pushing us to get faster in our strokes," says Brinkman.

Hale is glad Ogden pushes him to get better times. "From October to June, I cut my time by, like, 30 seconds and all that was because of the practices," he says.

For parent Derrick Theetge, it's more than just winning for his son Calvin. "His confidence alone in the pool is huge. Like Coach Debbie said, before he couldn't swim the length of the pool."

He can now, and is working on the backstroke.

Ogden almost didn't go back to the pool after her swimmer son with special needs died in 2005. She now says she is so glad she did.

"Every one of these swimmers have woven a way into my heart and it's special," she says.

Ann Thompson has years of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported for WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV, Metro Networks and CBS/ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2019 and 2011 A-P named her “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Ohio. She has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. Ann reports regularly on science and technology in Focus on Technology