Defying the Odds: The Inspirational Story of U.S. Paralympic Swimmer Joe Wise

Guest feature by Eric Owens

BALTIMORE, Maryland, January 23. JOE Wise's death sentence came at an early age. When he was 9 years old, Joe was diagnosed with Mitochondrial Myopathy: a multifaceted disease which, in Joe's case, is life-threatening. It is a severe muscular disorder that affects his legs, hips, abdominals and lungs. Normal tasks that most people don't give a second thought to like breathing, are a matter of life and death for Joe. Doctors told Joe he would not live to see his 15th birthday. However, instead of accepting this deadly prognosis, Joe Wise made the decision to live his life to the fullest.

Unfortunately, as Joe's swimming achievements progress, so does his disease. The prognosis is not good. Yet, Joe is not only alive, but he is a significant factor on the United States Paralympic Swim Team. In 2008, Joe was chosen to represent the United States in the Paralympic Games held in Beijing, China. However, this 19-time American record holder is not done yet. Joe is a freshman currently attending Loyola Maryland University as a member of its NCAA Division I Men's Swim Team, and is training for the Paralympic Games in the 2012 London Summer Olympics.

For the past four years, Joe's life has been a roller coaster ride with his disease, but the one thing that has always remained constant is his determination to reach his goal of competing in the London Games. He firmly believes that swimming has been, and continues to be, his lifeline. Doctors are stunned by Joe's achievements, and his utter defiance of their dire prognosis.

Quite simply, Joe's swimming appears to have significantly slowed the progression of his Mitochondrial Myopathy. Armed with an assiduous sense of contagious optimism, Joe approaches every single day as a gift and as an opportunity to make a difference. It is hard to be around him and not catch it. He never complains. He never feels sorry for himself. His plight and the palpable courage with which he battles for his life every day forces others to put into perspective the comparatively minor troubles they may face each day. Joe does make a difference.

Like most swimmers, Joe values the intense camaraderie he has developed with his teammates. And, like most teenagers, hanging out with his swimming friends, eating, watching movies and playing video games are all part of his routine. But it is his time in the water, pacing against the clock, pushing himself to the limit every day in the pool, and relishing the challenge that he credits with his survival. And so, he swims, always with optimism, a ready smile and a word of encouragement to those around him.

Ironically, his disease has presented unique opportunities that Wise fully embraces. He has traveled all over the world competing as a Paralympic athlete, Beijing, China; Rio De Janeiro, Brazil; Eindhoven, Netherlands; Canada; Puerto Rico, and soon London, England.

The advent of 2012 has sparked a new fire of tenacity and motivation for Joe, as he counts down the days to the biggest competition of his life.

With future dreams firmly set, Joe refuses to give into this deadly disease. Although he relies on a volume ventilator (life support) and medication every day, Joe looks at the bigger picture. He considers his medical challenges an opportunity rather than an obstacle. Those who have been fortunate enough to know and train with Joe would say that his greatest achievement is the indelible, positive impact he leaves on all those around him. He simply elevates others to be the best they can be as he meets and beats seemingly insurmountable odds, with a most humble persona and hopeful outlook.

When Joe is not busy training and doing school work, he provides updates on his swimming and health on his Facebook Fan Page. With each post, he strives to motivate others, living by the motto "Never give up. Keep fighting".

Keep your eye on for Joe Wise in the 2012 Paralympic Games as he goes for Gold and continues to leave his mark on the swimming world.