Whitten, Phillip

“Sizzling!” That’s the title of our article in this issue on some hot swimming at the USA Swimming National Championships in Austin. In particular, it’s an apt word to describe the world record performances of Michael Phelps, Ed Moses and Anthony Robinson.

But there’s another national championship coming up later this month. On June 22-24, the USA Swimming Disabilities Championships will be held in Phoenix. For pure inspiration, for an expression of the ultimate in human determination, this meet can’t be beat.

The swimmers are classified according to their disabilities, and they compete against similarly-disabled individuals. There are 15 separate categories: the lower the category number, the more severe the disability. For example, Sl1-10 are for functional disabilities such as spinal injuries. S1 includes quadriplegics; S10, below-the-knee amputees. S1113 are for the visually impaired, with S11 for athletes who are totally blind. S14 is for the cognitively disabled, including autistic and retarded swimmers. Finally, S15 is for the deaf.

An estimated 200 disabled swimmers will be competing in Phoenix, and the accomplishments of some of these individuals are absolutely staggering. Take Jason Wening, for example. Jason, 26, has won the 400 meter free in the last three Paralympic Games. In Sydney he set a WR of 4:42.97, and he also holds the global marks in the 800 and 1500. When Jason was tested in Colorado Springs, his V02max was 75among the very highest ever measured in any athlete! This summer he will compete in the National 5K Championships. “I figure, without the turns, I should be competitive,” he says. That’s because Jason is a congenital bilateral amputee-both his legs below the waist are missing.

Then there’s Erin Popovich, a dwarf who was the top U.S. performer in Sydney, with three gold and two silver medals. Erin was the U.S. flag-bearer at last year’s closing ceremonies. And Karen Norris, a 36year-old research mathematician who lost a leg to childhood cancer, but won the 100 meter backstroke in 1:14.61. And a 12-year-old boy with no legs who has competed in triathlons and open water swims since he was 9.

Most of the disabled swimmers train with USA Swimming or U.S. Masters Swimming clubs, swimming alongside their able-bodied teammates. Julie Bare, who is serving as the entry chairperson for the meet, says that this experience can have profound effects on the ablebodied swimmers.

Dr. Gail Dummer, who has worked in the field of adapted physical activity for 17 years, says: “You’ll watch as these kids shed their guide dogs, their prosthetics, their braces and wheelchairs and become ‘just swimmers.’ It’s mind-boggling to see them hop 50 meters on one leg to the starting blocks, hop onto the blocks and hold their position.” Bare adds: “When you see them slam into the wall with just their stumps as they make their flip turns, you’ll come to appreciate just how hard they train. To watch a quadriplegic swim 50 meters is absolutely inspiring.”

The Disability Championships will give all of us a new appreciation for the human potential. These swimmers are inspiring, amazing…awesome!

Copyright Sports Publications, Inc. Jun 2001

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