My son participated in his first Special Olympics swim meet this spring. I wasn’t sure what to expect, if he would get anything out of it or if my other two crazy children would cooperate while we waited for his race.
It started out as I expected…a little disorganized and behind schedule, my six year old whining and my three year old coming dangerously close to falling off the bleachers. Then my son’s name was called and he and my husband were off to the starting line. They had been practicing together since November and we decided he would do best with Dad in the water.
After some hesitation (due to the fact that the starting line was at the opposite end of the pool from where he usually enters), he got in and started swimming. His heat was for people who needed assistance, either from a flotation device or from another person. My son wore a flotation device on his back, but powered himself alone.
That’s the part that impressed me. Watching his little fifty pound, eight year old body propelling itself forward, slowly but surely, all the way across the pool. Smiling the whole way. Children with Down syndrome often have low muscle tone and poor coordination. They can tire easily. My son does. But he can also swim the length of a swimming pool all by himself, using the coordination he does have and pushing through that water with those not so toned muscles.
I watched as he swam across the water. I pictured him in the NICU after he was born, swollen and red and fragile. I pictured him during his illnesses, pale and weak and struggling for breath. I pictured him after his surgery, thrashing in pain. Then I looked at his big smile coming toward me. He was so proud. I was too. I saw only strength and joy.
Everyone was cheering. My son was happily distracted by it. He has always loved an adoring crowd. Lucky for him, he will always be surrounded by one.
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