Travis Edwards has been perfecting his backstroke, improving his swim speed and mastering the dive for months.
By this time next week, the efforts could result in the South Aiken High School senior garnering a Special Olympics USA National Games gold medal.
"When we go to state meets, he's constantly improving his time," said Bill Boyce, the Special Olympics director for Aiken, Saluda and Edgefield counties. "He's really got a good chance at the national level. He's really grown."
Edwards, along with Evans High School sophomore Keiria McCaskill and Montmorenci resident Alicia Melia, will travel to Lincoln, Neb., this weekend to compete in the national games.
The athletes are among 3,000 regional winners selected from 600,000 Special Olympics competitors who will compete in 35 events from Monday to Friday at the University of Nebraska, Boyce said. Sunday night's opening ceremony will set the tone for a week that will affect the athletes' lives, he said.
"It'll be a new experience for them in the world of sports," he said. "It'll be a growing experience, not only in athletics, but in relationships with other people."
Keiria, who is competing in rhythmic gymnastics, has worked toward reaching the national games since fifth grade, said her mother, Tersina Pearson. Her daughter is "nervous and excited" about next week's competition, Pearson said.
Today, Keiria and her coach, Anne Comer, first will travel to Atlanta then fly to Nebraska. Comer, a Columbia County school system recreational specialist, said Keiria commands the stage each time she competes, so she is prepared for the national competition.
"Keiria is an exceptional athlete," Comer said. "She's really motivated and works hard at her routine."
Boyce said Melia, 27, is dedicated to placing in the bowling competition. In the past month, she has increased her average from 85 to about 90, he said. She practices bowling every Sunday in Aiken.
Her mother, Terry Houghton, cannot attend the weeklong trip, but she's sending Melia to Nebraska with a special token.
"She'll leave with a necklace I wear with a cross on it," Houghton said. "I'm so happy she's going. It's nice that these kinds of things are available for all the special kids out there."