Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Swim Team

We've been at the pool a lot this summer. A lot.

Last year, I was approached by an official from our local swim team asking if Elena wanted to join. It was a very thoughtful invitation; a lot of kids from the elementary school are on the swim team. I declined; last year, Elena was not safe in the pool.

We pursued swimming with purpose this year. We found a new swim instructor. Elena needed private lessons, which are more expensive; I actually secured funds through a community initiative program to pay for her lessons until the start of summer. The intention was for Elena to make enough progress to be safe in the water--meaning, if she were to land in water, she could swim up to the surface, look around, find a water exit, and make it to a safe spot (edge of the pool/standing depth).

My clandestine goal for Elena was once she could accomplish the above criteria, she would be able to 1) pass the swim test at the local water park, 2) ride the slide (mostly), and 3) be safe should someone toss her into/around the pool, just like a lot of the smaller kids enjoy.  I figured, if she had no interest in joining the swim team, she could at least try to enjoy a day at a waterpark. She and Vivian could be together (Viv passed the test last year).

Elena took private swim lessons, twice a week, for close to three months. She loves her instructor Lori. They worked in the therapy (warm) pool, with emphasis on kicking, reaching (stroke mechanics), head placement, diving for objects and "flippy-doos"--where Lori would grab Elena, flip her (in a random direction underwater) and E would swim to the surface and back float. These were great drills in preparation for summer pool fun.

After a while, Elena started to get too hot working in the warm pool, and asked to start working in the lap pool (cold water). She started swimming across the pool. I asked her if she wanted to join the swim team. After some convincing, she and Vivian both decided to join.

I spoke with the head coach, Eric, prior to the kids joining the team. He said he'd never had a child with a physical disability before, but he was ready to learn and to help Elena become a better swimmer and enjoy her time on the team. His assistant coaches were high school students, and every one of them was wonderful.

Elena and Vivian both practiced with the 8-and-under group. Vivian is a decent swimmer, but not terribly competitive. Elena wanted to practice with her age group (11-12), but knew that the 8-and-under group was already quite challenging, and agreed it was the best fit. We were out of town for a few weeks during the season; when we were here, they practiced 4 times a week and participated in the weekly meet.

Nervous Viv

My plan was for Vivian to compete with her age group. Elena wanted to compete with her age group too; I wasn't sure if she could finish a 50-meter swim and still feel successful, so we were planning on having Elena start at the opposite side of the pool and swim 25m while her peers swam 50m. She would start in the water, instead of dive; this is not unusual--sometimes even required for all swimmers if the pool is shallow. Elena was always to swim in the edge lane (in case she needed a wall or assistance). Elena liked this plan...until her first meet. An away meet--the only meet in a 50 meter length pool.

Elena was nervous but confident. She said she wanted to swim the 50m.

Coach Julie helping E get ready for her first ever Freestyle

Her first event, 50m freestyle, took her more than three times as long as other swimmers. She took breaks on the lane line, but never pulled on it for advantage. By the time she made it to the other side, the entire pool was cheering for her--our team, the opposing team, coaches, officials, parents--everyone.


She was so proud of herself...and told me that she knew she could do it, and she'd be sticking with 50m events (the distance for her age range) because she wanted that ribbon.

Not only did she get a fistful of ribbons...she improved her times every single meet. She only competed in freestyle and backstroke--but, she actually has a legal butterfly and breaststroke! Currently, they are not terribly efficient so she can't finish a legal 50m swim...yet.

Vivian finished with quite a few ribbons herself, including a few heat winners! Both girls were avid cheerleaders for their team and had a great time!

When parents told me that the swim team was a supportive, fun, inclusive environment, I never expected an experience like this. They are incredible.

KWST, thank you so much for your support and encouragement, enthusiasm and inclusion. 

We were approached by the local news if they could do a story; Elena agreed. Here's the spot.

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