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Special Olympics: Athlete Kristen Clark

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NEW JERSEY (MYFOXNY.COM) -

Kristen Clark, 37, landed in her first swimming pool thanks to her mom's gene pool.

"She actually told me that before she gave birth to me that I did a cartwheel in her stomach," Kristen said.

But before enduring those abdominal acrobatics, Patricia Clark placed 14th at the 1956 Olympic swim trials.

"She was a world-class diver," Kristen said. And Kristen would argue she was also a world-class coach.

Twenty-five years ago, Kristen, then 9, competed in her first Special Olympics, as a gymnast, because of her mom. She continues to compete. Most recently, she swam the 200-meter free, 100-meter back, and a couple of relays to honor her mom's memory.

"My mom died six years ago to cancer and I've been living on my own," she said.

But not alone. Special Olympics New Jersey teammates like Jessica Licata provide Kristen with allies both in and out of the water.

"Before Special Olympics I really didn't have a lot of friends and it was kind of hard for me to socialize," Licata said. "I was kind of the shy person, so making friends was kind of a big deal for me."

The big deal for Team New Jersey goes down in Princeton this June when Kristen and her teammates swim at the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games.

"It will tell everyone around the world that Team New Jersey aquatics is a strong sport," she said.

Kristen, Jessica and the rest of Team New Jersey enter nationals with a unique advantage over other teams: They practice at the same Princeton University pool where they'll compete in June.

"To be able to be here and know what it's going to feel like. It's not going to be new to them," Coach Lauren Kisiel said. "It's going to feel like: We've been here. This is our pool."

On this day, Coach Lauren used her pool to work on conditioning. But exhaustion does little to dilute the team's enthusiasm.

"I am pumped up," Jessica said.

"Look at me go," Kristen said.

Kristen recently received a tribute greater than any of her gold medals earned in competition.

"I was thrilled to be honored for the Hall of Fame," she said. "I was kind of like in tears, with happy joy across my smile."

This next opportunity to represent her state, her team, and -- in a way -- her mom perhaps serves as an example of a life with Down syndrome toward which the rest of us might aspire.

"My life is truly a Cinderella story," Kristen said.

Click here for more Special Olympics coverage and information.

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