Many coaches love their sport, but the love affair took an unusual twist for Shawn Kornoelje. The head coach of the U.S. Paralympic Swim Team proposed to his wife, Paralympic athlete Cheryl Angelelli, in front of a crowd of 4,000 at a championship event, and he’s been her husband/coach ever since.
Sweet as that story is, it’s not the main reason Kornoelje’s name (pronounced Kor-neel-ya) is so well-respected. Since 1998, he’s been a key member of the U.S. Paralympics coaching staff, preparing teams for the 2000 Sydney Games, 2002 World Championships in Argentina and the 2004 Athens Olympics.
He was head coach of the men’s team in 2004 and serves as the swimming coordinator on the Michigan Wheelchair Sports board. In addition, he conducts a disability clinic for coaches at Michigan State University, breaking down stroke technique and teaching them about training equipment, proper workouts and safety. The clinic is open to coaches who have had little to no experience coaching disabled swimmers.
One of his swimmers, who is missing both legs, holds three gold medals from three Paralympic Games and numerous world and American records. It’s people such as that swimmer who inspired Kornoelje — and still do today. “The chance to coach a person with such high expectations of himself despite the disability was not to be missed,” he says.
And though all of his swimmers are important to Kornoelje, he can’t help but favor one: his wife, who ranks No. 2 in the world in the Paralympic 200-meter free-style. — Rin-rin Yu