Today I decided was the day to look for a swimming team for Ellen.
While we're not sure which grade she'll be in yet, we're guessing that Ellen will probably end up in the eighth grade based on what level she's in school in Thailand. The school district's swim team opens up for children in ninth grade and above, so she'll probably be here about seven months before she's able to join. Because swimming is so important to her, we don't want her to have to wait that long before jumping back into the sport. She's already going to be going through such a difficult transition; we don't want to take anything else away from her if we can help it. If she chooses not to continue swimming that's an entirely different story, of course, but we want to have a place for her figured out before she gets here so we won't be left scrambling to find her a place.
At first we just figured we'd look into the recreational swim team options, but that was before we found out exactly how committed she is to the sport. Not only is she apparently swimming seven days a week, but she's been competing on an international level. Needless to say, if she wants to continue we're going to be slightly more involved in swimming than we originally thought, and a recreational team just isn't going to cut it.
There aren't any competitive swimming teams in our city, so I found a directory of teams in the local area and selected a few that I thought we'd be willing to drive to and would work with our budget. I must admit to being more than a bit nervous when I picked up the phone to dial the first number.
I'm sad to say that I've run into more than a few organizations over the years who have either rejected Connor completely or were very reluctant to let him participate. We ran into this issue long before the seizures started and his medical needs escalated, so this isn't simply a matter of people being unqualified to watch him-- something that is completely understandable. I think it has much more to do with the fact that many Americans seem very uncomfortable around those with disabilities.
Case in point: I attended a church for about a year that encouraged me to leave Connor (who was about one and a half at the time) in the nursery. They told me that the teacher was trained in CPR and had taken classes in early childhood development, and that Connor would have a great time with the other kids while I focused on the adult service. So I finally decided to give it a try, and the teacher told me that she had everything covered and that she would come get me if there were any issues. Every Sunday she assured me that he'd enjoyed himself. The arrangement worked very well for about three months.
Or so I thought.
Then one Sunday I needed to leave the service a bit early and walked into the nursery to discover Connor lying by himself in a crib in the corner, staring at the ceiling while all the other children had story time. It turned out that Connor spent an hour and a half in that crib every Sunday while all the other kids played, did crafts, and had a grand old time. The teacher informed me that she "didn't know what to do with him and didn't want the other kids touching him, so it seemed like the best thing to do." For three months, she'd been sticking him in the crib directly after I left for services and took him out about ten minutes before it was time for the kids to rejoin their parents.
Needless to say, that was the last Sunday we ever attended that particular church. And let me tell you, the incident in no way helped me get over my Helicopter Mom tendencies.
Anyway, most of these swimming teams cater to the serious, elite able-bodied athlete. Since I was calling to ask them about taking on a swimmer with a disability, I wasn't sure what kind of reception I would get. I absolutely didn't want to put Ellen in a program that would isolate her from the other kids or would simply accommodate her; I wanted to enroll her in a program with coaches that would be genuinely happy about her being there and wouldn't leave her in the corner, so to speak, while all the other kids had a great time.
On the second phone call, I hit the jackpot.
The swim team practices about twenty minutes away. They already have several children and young adults with disabilities who swim competitively enrolled, and one actually went to the paralympic time trials for swimming this past year. The coach was enthusiastic about the idea of Ellen joining, and explained how it would work. He'd meet with her one-on-one to assess her skill level, and then she'd be assigned to one of the teams, which are mostly made up of swimmers without disabilities. She'd be fully included and practice with the rest of her teammates, and if there was an exercise that she wasn't able to do they'd simply give her a modified version.
She'd also be able to compete in the local swimming competitions with the typical kids, and there would be opportunities several times a year for her to travel to competitions for disabled swimmers in the USA and Canada, if she qualified in the necessary time trials. It sounds like a fantastic program, and hearing the excitement in the coach's voice as he asked me when she'd be coming and joining the team made me so happy that I'd picked up the phone.
I can't wait to get her home!
2 months ago