TAMPA BAY, Florida. April 29. "HI, my name is Joey. I have Spina Bifida", were the first words out of his mouth. It isn't very often you meet someone that way. I was extremely nervous. He was obviously very excited.
I was at a Tampa Bay YMCA last weekend doing a swim clinic for about one-hundred kids. Two of the athletes were disabled and participated in adaptive swimming programs or hoped to be part of the Paralympics. Since my accident, Iï¿½ve done several clinics and talks to swimmers and students all over the country. But this was the first time I was going to try and teach someone who was disabled to swim breaststroke.
Many of the drills I teach at clinics involve full-body movements. So I started this clinic the same way I do any, and told the kids to go through the water using their core muscles and not their arms or legs. The moment I gave the first drill, Joey quite literally hopped from his wheelchair into the pool. He was the first person in the water. All of the other kids reluctantly got in and started doing the drills. Several of them started asking questions. As is typical at clinics, some of the able-bodied swimmers popped straight up and said things like, "I can't do this." Or, "This is impossible".
I smiled, because for the first time in my life I didn't have to say a thing. All I had to do was point. There was Joey, putting every bit of energy he had into trying to get his body through the water without using his arms and obviously not able to use his legs. He was a little awkward, but he was doing it. He showed 98 other swimmers that it was indeed very possible.
For the first time in my clinic instructional history a "disabled" swimmer was demonstrating the drills. He wasn't demonstrating the perfect way to do the drill, but he was demonstrating an amazing can-do attitude. He showed all the other swimmers that all they had to do was try.
When Joey reached the wall I looked at him and asked him how he was doing. He was breathing hard and I thought he must be exhausted.
"This is fun!" he replied with a huge smile. "What's next?"