Golden Girl: Nevada City woman wins Special Olympics’ big prize | TheUnion.com

Golden Girl: Nevada City woman wins Special Olympics’ big prize

As the Special Olympics celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, one local athlete is beaming with extra pride and appreciation for the organization, the world's largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

Nevada City's Faith Collins, 32, clenched gold in swimming on July 4, adding another medal to her growing collection.

Collins' natural ability as an athlete shone through from a very young age, said her mother Brenda Bellizzi. Despite being diagnosed with high-functioning autism, obsessive compulsive disorder and attention deficit/hyperactive disorder, Collins became an accomplished equestrian at a very young age.

"People with disabilities do really well riding horses," said Bellizzi, "because they don't talk back. They don't care about visual expressions, they just get the vibe."

Witnessing her daughter's athletic proclivity ­— and beginning to balk at the expense of boarding and maintaining a horse — Bellizzi encouraged Collins to explore other sports.

A friend soon taught Faith to run and to ride a bike. Another friend, local pediatrician Dr. Sarah Woerner, taught her how to swim by guiding her along the waves and currents of Scotts Flat Lake. The next thing her mother knew, Faith was participating in the Barbara Schmidt Millar triathlon.

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"She's always been athletic, and artistic," said Bellizzi. "This whole town has made Faith who she is. It's fabulous for her self esteem; I mean she really sees herself as an athlete. That's what I think is so interesting about Special Olympics, it's all so positive and inclusive."

Faith runs with the Sierra Trail Blazers, and swims for the Motherlode Northern California swim team. On July 4 she won gold in the Special Olympics' 4 x 50-meter women's relay at the King Aquatic Center in Seattle. The event was televised nationally on ESPN2.

Faith said the Special Olympics is relevant for the chances they give all athletes, regardless of ability.

"It's important because it gives people a chance to compete in what they love to do," said Collins. "It's fun. It feels good."

This has been a transformative year for Collins, Bellizzi said. In addition to her victory in Seattle, Collins has moved into an apartment with her boyfriend of over two years, Israel.

Faith said her partner is supportive of her athleticism and sometimes watches her compete.

"It's just been a big turnaround for her in every way," Bellizzi said. "She has to have structure. And when Faith has that she does really well. Structure is what these kids need, and that is what the Special Olympics is all about: a structured environment."

"She's got this tenacity," Bellizzi continued. "Perseverance and tenacity. It's just astounding to me. When Faith wants to do something, she does it."

Bellizzi recalled that one year in particular, Collins completed the Barbara Schmidt Millar race then turned around and completed another triathlon in Folsom in the same week.

Collins acknowledges that her athletic achievements aren't your average run-of-the-mill feats, but also brushes off any prolonged accolades.

Whether she is in the middle of a swim meet or running like the wind in a triathlon, Collins' philosophy remains the same: "Do whatever you can do. Just keep on truckin."

Jennifer Nobles is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at jnobles@theunion.com or 530-477-4231.

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