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Russian Swimmer Finds Acceptance Through Special Olympics

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CHAPEL HILL — TheSpecial Olympics World Gamesoffer acceptance and an escape from the stigma associated with mental retardation. A Russian swimmer knows that firsthand.

Vladi Sanotsky has come a long way to compete in his first World Games. Moscow seems even more distant as he swims at UNC's Koury Natatorium.

Through an interpreter, Sanotsky and his coach explain how they feel being here.

"The [Special] Olympics is very special and I feel very welcome and people are very friendly. We feel very special," they say.

Things in the United States are different than at home. Sanotsky's mother says life in Moscow has not been easy for her son, and others with mental disabilities.

Walks in the sunshine used to be rare. For a long time, Sanotsky and his mother only strolled at night, when fewer people were outside.

Even finding a swimming pool was difficult. One of Sanotsky's coaches says some people in the community thought it was dangerous to let people with mental disabilities in to swim.

Slowly, Special Olympics is helping break down barriers so athletes like Sanotsky can find greater acceptance. Family members say they are proud of him. At the World Games, no one could be more proud than Vladi Sanotsky himself.

Stay tuned to WRAL, the official TV station of the World Summer Games, for complete coverage. We'll recap the day's events each weeknight from 7:30 to 8 p.m. You can also catch a five-minute recap each night after WRAL's 11:00 News. Of course, you can also watch it all onWRAL OnLine.