By Brent Rutemiller
PHOENIX, Arizona, March 1. HAVE you ever taught a blind person to float or a deaf person to swim? How about watching a young boy throw his crutches to the ground before sliding into the water for a swim lesson? Have you seen a parent crying tears of joy?
For the past 15 years, I have experienced all of these as a volunteer Special Olympics swim coach at the Phoenix Swim Club.
I remember Edson, who asked to be on my S.O.S. swim team (Special Olympics Swimmers). His mom pushed him onto the deck in a wheelchair. I piggybacked him into the water and then lifted him onto my shoulders. Soon, a “chicken fight” broke out in the water with the other coaches and swimmers. Edson couldn't stop laughing. When he got off my shoulders, he sank straight to the bottom.
Edson could only propel himself with his arms. His legs dragged toward the bottom as he wiggled through the water. I would pull him up for air and then let him go back under. He won a medal that summer for the 10-meter assisted swim at the Arizona Special Olympic State Championships.
Eight years later, Edson walks with crutches, swims 400 yards a practice, rides a three-wheel bike and has a room full of swimming medals.
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I also remember the day the gate swung open and in walked a mother with a young teenage girl named Vanessa. The mother was holding the girl's arm above the elbow. The girl was waving a cane, left to right, in front of her.
I introduced myself but purposely kept circling around her as we talked to track her awareness. Finally she blurted out, “Will you keep still?” I could see she was outspoken and determined.
Vanessa lives in a dark world where there is no difference between above and below the surface. It took a whole season to teach her backstroke. We created a metronome to send sound waves through the water by using a long pole inserted in the pool and clanking the other side with a metal wrench. Through trust and courage, she learned to take a stroke then glide with each sound.
This past year, Vanessa won a medal in the 50 freestyle for her classification. Her mother proudly walked beside her.
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Five years ago, Kyle walked by swinging his hips and dragging one leg. His arms didn't fully extend, mostly because of shortened tendons in his body. He has what appears to be a mild case of cerebral palsy. He did not know how to swim. For the first four years on the team, Kyle simply did doggie paddle and rolled over on his back for a breath. His legs dragged behind him.
This past year, we decided to buy some arm floaties to put on his feet. Immediately, his body position improved to the point where he is now swimming close to a mile at every practice. Kyle won individual medals this past year and he proudly took them to his school.
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Think about the incredible courage it takes for disabled individuals to face each day. Think about what opportunities these children will miss if the Phoenix Swim Club pools are removed. Sign the petition to Keep The Special Permit that saves the facility.