Hilltop Service Worker Qualifies for Special Olympics

Sam Fawley

Sam Fawley, a service worker at University Residences’ Hilltop Apartments, will compete in swimming events in the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando, Florida.   

Fawley's passion for swimming dates to childhood. He remembers the first time he heard about the opportunity to compete in Special Olympics while he was a fifth grader in his hometown of Logansport, Indiana.   

“My mom was telling me about how there’s going to be a Special Olympics in my hometown, and when my mom said Olympics and swim team, I just jumped at the chance to get involved,” Fawley says.   

Joining Special Olympics opened up other lanes into competitive swimming for Fawley, who also participated in Cass County Seals (a local swim club), and swam for four years at Logansport High School, including two years as a member of the varsity team. He has continued to be an active participant in Special Olympics over the last 23 years, first in Cass County and now as a member of Tippecanoe County Special Olympics.  

Fawley has enjoyed a successful swimming career through Special Olympics with two trips to national Special Olympics USA events. He earned four medals at each event, including one gold at the Lincoln, Nebraska event in 2010 and three golds at the national games in Princeton, New Jersey in 2014.   

Fawley typically swims three times per week, waking up early to swim at 6 a.m. at the France A. Córdova Recreation Center (CoRec) before he begins his work shift at Hilltop. He swims the same routine every time he swims, starting with a 200-yard freestyle warm up and going through various strokes in varying distances, with only a few short breaks for water. His final workout before cooldown is what he calls a “Boiler Up, Hammer Down IM,” a 100-yard medley that includes backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and freestyle. His swim routine totals 2800 yards, or approximately 1.6 miles of swimming, which he says typically takes about an hour to complete. Having success involves working repeatedly on each different stroke.  

“My favorite is also my least favorite too, which is the individual medley,” Fawley says. “It’s my favorite in a way because it’s what I’m best at, but it’s also what I like the least – especially the butterfly. The butterfly is extremely tough and difficult to swim. It’s a lot of hard work, trying to move those arms and do the dolphin kick-out while trying to keep your hands moving in the water.”   

Having the discipline to stick to his routine and swim is one of the keys to Fawley’s success.  

“I even make myself work out when I don’t want to,” Fawley says. “I’ve got a drill sergeant sort of voice in my conscience that tells me to get up and swim this!”   

Fawley says his health is even more of an influence on his training than Special Olympics is. He cites concerns about family health history and a love for fast food as motivators to stay fit. He also stays active through Special Olympics Tippecanoe County Fitness Club. The club meets twice a week to walk a 5K (3.1 miles) at Cumberland Park and Munger Park.   

Five days a week, Fawley reports to Hilltop Apartments, where he has been a member of the service staff since January 2020. He began working at Purdue as a member of the Meredith Residence Hall service staff on August 1, 2016 after his family relocated to Tippecanoe County. Fawley’s coworkers describe him as talkative and upbeat, and his love for people shines in his work.  

“I love meeting and greeting, and interacting with all of the students who come from different parts of the country and different parts of the world,” Fawley says. “I just love learning about them, getting to know them and getting to meet them.”  

Fawley says he often engages students in conversation, asking them about their day and trying to get to know them as best as he can.   

“I want to make them feel like they’re at home, make them feel welcome here and help make their experience as pleasant as possible here at Purdue,” Fawley says.   

Fawley also enjoys sharing his love for music with coworkers and people he meets. He plays both the acoustic and electric guitar, and covers songs from various genres of rock including artists such as the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, the Ramones, Green Day and others. He has played at staff events and cookouts, participates in open-mic nights and, this past summer, performed at an outdoor concert series in Logansport. While in New Jersey for the 2014 games, Fawley was able to visit the Princeton Record Exchange, a famous record store, and add original records from some of his favorite artists to his collection.    

Traveling to the national games and getting to experience different parts of the country is one of the parts Fawley says he enjoys most about Special Olympics. On the same trip to New Jersey, he was also able to take a river boat tour on the Hudson River to see the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building and One World Trade Center. He also enjoyed getting pizza at Old Chicago in Lincoln, Nebraska, though he says it wasn’t his favorite state he has visited. In addition to competing in Orlando, Fawley says he’s looking forward to visiting Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Florida with his mom, brother and girlfriend.   

Qualifying for the national Special Olympics games requires a combination of performance, positive attitude and good sportsmanship. Athletes are nominated by county coordinators and are observed by state games officials at the annual state meet, held in Terre Haute. Fawley recently won gold at the Special Olympics Indiana Summer Games as part of a 4-x-50-yard medley relay team, on which he swam a 50-yard breaststroke.   

“When my team got gold in that I thought to myself ‘I bet now I’m going to get picked for the Special Olympics USA National Games in Orlando, Florida next year’ and, sure enough, I was right!” Fawley says.   

While Fawley doesn’t know which events he will be swimming in at the national games yet, he says he hopes to swim the breaststroke leg of a 4-x-50-yard medley relay and participate in the 100-yard individual medley, 100-yard breaststroke and 500-yard freestyle. He has already met some of his teammates at a plane pull fundraiser in Indianapolis and quickly became friends with one of them. Fawley and all national meet qualifiers from Indiana will participate in a training camp at Higher Grounds Retreat Conference Center and Christian Camp in West Harrison this November, where they will participate in dry land exercises, aerobics, agility workouts and training specific to their sport.  

“I’ve made a lot of friends and have gotten a lot of opportunities I wouldn’t have gotten had it not been for Special Olympics,” Fawley says. “Special Olympics has given me the courage, skill and confidence to endeavor in swimming, sports and life. I’ve made so many friends that I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for Special Olympics.”  

As he reflects on his experiences in Special Olympics and working at Purdue, Fawley says it’s the people that stick out most.  

“I’m just grateful to all of the people I’ve met through Purdue and Special Olympics,” he says. “I’m more happy with the friendships that I’ve made than anything else I have.”   

Set to be held June 5-12, 2022, the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games will unite more than 5,500 athletes and coaches from all 50 states and the Caribbean, 20,000 volunteers and 125,000 spectators during one of the country’s most cherished sporting events. Learn more about the games at the event’s website. 

Hilltop Service Worker Qualifies for Special Olympics 

Writer: Matt Vader | Editors: Elizabeth Hartley, Tammy Loew, Danielle Fawbush

Editorial Board: Barb Frazee, Tammy Loew, Elizabeth Hartley | Inquiries Contact: studentlifemarketing@purdue.edu