Kallie Robbins, Dalan Dagen will swim in Florida
By Bill Foley
Dalan Dagen could not possibly have a better teammate next month when he travels to Orlando, Florida for the Special Olympics USA Games.
Dagen is going with Kallie Robbins.
The two Butte Special Olympic stars are going there to compete in swimming, and the pool is just down the road from Disney Land. If there is one thing Robbins likes better than swimming, it is Disney World.
“I’ve been to Disney World like three times,” Robbins said just before a practice Tuesday at the Butte Family YMCA. “This will be my fourth time.”
So, Robbins, 25, cannot decide if she is more excited to compete in the prestigious event or to spend a day at the “Most Magical Place on Earth.”
“Probably a little bit of both,” she said before Dagen butted in with a laugh.
“She’s looking forward more to Disney World than swimming,” he said.
Dagen, 23, on the other hand, has never been to Disney World. Actually, said he has never left Montana.
“This will be my first time going out of state,” he said. “First time on a plane. It’s my first time for everything. The more it gets closer, the more I get excited.”
As far as navigating Disney World, well Dagen said he will leave that up to Robbins, and that is perfectly fine with her. Whether it is basketball, track or swimming, she is used to looking after her Butte Eagles teammates.
“She usually does,” said her father/coach Gary Robbins. “She’s the team protector.”
Kallie Robbins and Dalan Dagen have been friends since they were little. Robbins attended Emmerson Elementary, East Middle School and Butte High School (Class of 2016), while Dagen went to West Elementary, Emerson, East and Butte High (2018).
They have known about the trip for about a year. Their names were drawn out of a list of Montana gold medal winners. Their friend and basketball teammate Zach Stenson competed in the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle, and he brought home gold, silver and bronze in track.
Stenson, who also got a celebratory firetruck parade when he returned home a champion, appears to be every bit as excited as Robbins and Dagen that his friends get to experience the Games, too.
In fact, he knew about the selection before Dagen did. He called to try to break the news when Dagen was taking a nap. He called and called and called until his friend knew he was heading to Orlando.
“I was surprised,” Dagen said with a laugh. “I had Zach blow my phone up.”
Stenson has offered advice at what to expect. He also showed them what they can win.
“I showed them how big the medals are,” Stenson said.
Dagen and Robins are no strangers to gold medals. They have stacks of them from competing in the Special Olympics for more than a decade.
“I have more gold medals than I can count,” Robbins said.
Robbins will compete in the 50-meter freestyle, feet-meter breaststroke and 100-meter freestyle in the Olympic-size pool. Dagen will swim the 50 freestyle, 50 backstroke and 100 backstroke.
They have been working hard at the YMCA, where the staff has let them practice for free for the last year.
“We’re here twice a week,” said Gary Robbins, who has coached both athletes in multiple sports for about 16 years. “We do a lot of cardio and then swim their events.”
Gary also coaches the Eagles team in the Special Olympics in basketball and the annual Burgman/Boyle game in August.
“He’s the best coach I ever had,” Dagen said, shaking his head at the idea of his coach ever retiring. “The day you retire is the day I retire.”
Fortunately, that is not in the cards any time soon for Gary Robbins.
“They won’t let me,” he said. “But I love it. Of all the years coaching regular ed kids, these guys have given me more than any regular ed kid.”
The Butte duo will fly out of Great Falls on June 3. The games run June 5-12.
Gary, though, will not be in Orlando with his athletes.
The trip, which is completely paid for thanks in large part to Jersey Mike’s Subs, the presenting partner of the Games, includes coaches and chaperones, so Gary knows his athletes are in good hands.
Besides, Kallie wants her dad to stay home and stream the Games live on ESPN.
“I want to do this on my own,” she said.
Dagen will also be heading down without any family members. That is OK with him because he knows he has his good friend and teammate Kallie on his side.
“She’s my chauffeur,” Dagen said. “I’m going to be following her around whatever she goes.”