I joined my high school’s swim team but I didn’t know how to swim.
It was my junior year of high school, I convinced my high school AP History teacher, who was also the head swim coach, to let me join the team.
I told him I didn’t need to compete. I just wanted to join the team practices. I wanted to experience being a part of a team.
I had never been a part of a sports team. I couldn’t do any sports with my cerebral palsy.
But I told Mr. Diercks that I can swim, “When we were in California, I swam in our pool every day,” I told him. And I did do that. But I was in Indiana now, no pool and often too cold to swim outdoors.
It was my first practice. Coach Diercks introduced me to the team, and asked me to swim 50 yards freestyle in the far left lane. A few minutes later, Coach asked me to step out of the pool. I smiled brightly and asked him what he wanted me to do next.
He looked at me and said, much to my surprise, that I did not know how to swim but that I did know how to dog paddle.
Instead of judging and ridiculing me, Coach Diercks did what all great teachers do. He gave me the opportunity to learn something new.
I spent the rest of the afternoon with a few guys from the boys swim team learning how to breathe properly under water, turn my head with each stroke of my arms, and kick my feet continuously above the water.
It wasn’t perfect or fast. My legs and feet couldn’t really kick well enough for speed or stay consistently above the water. I never learned to launch from the mini diving board but kicked off the wall instead. I did with ever practice.
That season, I participated in swim competitions! I usually swam 100 yards of freestyle in the 400 yard relay.
I remember hearing my teammates cheering me on as I swam. They would walk across the pool and shout, “Go! Go! Go! You can do it!”
It didn’t matter if I slowed down the time. Coach Diercks said I was was part of the team. I was so grateful for my experience with the swim team that year. And for my AP History teacher and coach.
I learned important life lessons that I took into my adult life including if you don’t ask for what you want or need, nothing changes; it’s ok to do things differently; you can always learn something new; I am accepted and celebrated; and I have permission to take up space in this world and on this team.
When Coach Diercks signed my yearbook that year, he wrote: “To a tenacious and gutsy kid. Keep it up. Nothing can stop you.”