Passion, Pizza Strokes, and Perseverance

I can still remember that first "Mommy & Me" swim class like it was yesterday.  In my opinion, Dinomite was doing fabulous.  But then as the class ended, the instructor approached me explaining that the class wouldn't work out for my son.  I was mortified, and can still feel the sting of the tears as they swelled in my eyes, mixing with the chlorine from the pool.  How can a "Mommy and Me" class not work out?  Back then, we didn't know Dinomite had autism.  To us his behaviors were normal. After all, he was our first child.  Thankfully the tears didn't fall, until after I had made it to my vehicle.

Once calm enough to take action, I was able to speak to a swimming instructor who was willing to help Dinomite be successful in the water.  At every "Mommy & Me" class Coach Sheri would greet Dinomite and join him in the water, giving him a one-to-one lesson, while the other children participated in the "Mommy & Me" class.  At times Coach Sheri and Dinomite would join others, but for the most part, they would work on their own.  Coach Sheri continued to do this until she felt my son was ready for a small class setting, where she would be the instructor.  Oh, how Dinomite loved Coach Sheri.  She was able to connect with him in ways that so many others could not.  His affection towards her is never ending.  He continued with her for some time, until we had to take a break from lessons.

Fast forward a few years to when Dinomite turned 7.  He desperately wanted to learn how to swim without a life jacket and requested lessons again.  My husband and I signed him up for a class thought to be at his level.

Dinomite tried so hard to swim in this class each week.  I would go to support him.  He would struggle with every stroke, trying to literally keep his head above water.  We knew by then that he had autism.  It was a well known fact that he struggled with coordination and muscle tone issues.  I spoke with the instructor, giving her a heads up, asking for confirmation he was in the correct class.  She assured me he would be fine.

Watching Dinomite try to swim was hard enough.  But then I'd sit and watch as he just couldn't pick up on social cues.  Other girls in the class would laugh at him, and at times be mean.  It was more than my mommy heart could bare.  I found myself holding back tears at every lesson.  Eventually I had to ask my husband to go, because I couldn't emotionally handle watching Dinomite struggle so much.

But then there was Dinomite.  Despite always finishing last or not finishing at all, he was determined to learn how to swim and would try his hardest to keep going.  Even though his classmates were mean to him, he wanted to keep going to class.  As I write this I tear up thinking about his passion for swimming and his never ending perseverance.  My son was the one teaching me a lesson about not giving up.  On more than one occasion I mentioned it would be okay for him to quit.

When the session was over, the instructor finally agreed that Dinomite should be moved to a lower class level.  Coach Sheri was still working at the facility and helped us place Dinomite in a class better suited for him.  Though he still struggled, it wasn't as noticeable.  He was the oldest and tallest among his peers but this didn't matter to him, because Josh was his new instructor.  Coach Sheri had recommended Josh.  We signed Dinomite up for this class specifically because of the instructor.  The session went well, but Dinomite was still unable to make much progress due to low muscle tone, coordination issues, sensory issues, and his ADHD tendencies.  Josh's class was huge.  It took every ounce of energy and focus Dinomite had to function for the duration of the lesson.  He would crash the minute we returned home.

After the last class in the session, Josh gave Dinomite a high five and told him he'd see him next week.  Dinomite was enrolled in the next session, but we did not know who the teacher would be.  When the next session did start, Dinomite was absolutely crushed to learn that Josh was not his teacher.  He held tears back until we returned home, but then sobbed all night long.  For the first time, Dinomite wanted to quit swimming.  Josh had been the factor that made all of the struggles during lessons worthwhile.  Josh could make Dinomite smile and laugh, even if he couldn't do things just right.  Josh was someone Dinomite had connected with, just like he had so many years ago with Coach Sheri.

At this point, I wasn't about to let Dinomite quit, but I knew the current class situation would not work.  So, with the help of Coach Sheri, I was able to arrange private lessons for Dinomite.  While speaking to Coach Sheri I had mentioned the connection between Josh and Dinomite.  Like before, she worked her magic, and was able to set up private lessons with none other than Josh himself.

Josh and Dinomite have been working together for about five months now.  Dinomite looks forward to EVERY lesson, no matter how hard Josh pushes him.  He may not fully understand how to be socially appropriate 100% of the time, needing cues every now and then, but Josh has been so good with him.  Coordination and muscle tone still slow Dinomite down.  If he misses a lesson, regression occurs, but this doesn't stop Dinomite from trying to do his very best.  Dinomite most likely will never be on a swim team, bringing home ribbons and trophies, but he now has a new goal that goes beyond just learning how to swim without a life jacket.

We arrived at the pool a few minutes early for one of his lessons.  Dinomite watched as Coach Sheri was finishing up a training for lifeguards.  Josh was in attendance, practicing rescue drills.

"What are they doing?"  Dinomite asked.

I explained that the instructors in the pool were lifeguards, and that Coach Sheri was helping them improve their skills.

Dinomite leaned over to me and whispers,

"I want to be a lifeguard like Josh when I grow up."

After the training, he shared the news with Coach Sheri and Josh.  Both smiled encouragingly.

I wouldn't be surprised if someday Dinomite reaches this new goal.  He is the most cautious, rule following boy I know.  Combine that with years of lessons to improve his skills, and he'd be perfect for the job!

I sometimes imagine what would have happened, if I hadn't had the courage to find an instructor that would help Dinomite as a toddler so long ago.  What if I had succeeded in convincing Dinomite to quit lessons during the first session at age seven?  He would have missed out on so much.  It is amazing how Dinomite's passion for swimming, determination to learn the "pizza stroke,"  (as Josh calls it) and perseverance have led him to not only develop a life long skill, but create relationships and bonds that will influence his life forever.  I am so thankful to have been a witness to such an amazing experience.

Never forget that with the proper supports, our children can do anything they set their minds to.  My biggest thanks goes to Coach Sheri and Josh for all they have done for Dinomite in and out of the pool.  It has meant the world to me to watch my son blossom in so many ways.

2 comments:

  1. Love this! Thanks for sharing your heart and experience.

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  2. Josh has helped the young boy I mentor tremendously. As has his twin brother Jake. P (the boy I mentor) didn't know how to swim. He spent a whole year as a polliwog. But he came back, because he loved hanging out and being goofy with Jake and Josh. He just recently got moved up to Guppy and a few weeks ago he swam (with Jake and Josh swimming right next to him) the length of the Olympic pool! P would not be where he is today if it wasn't for them. He certainly wouldn't know how to swim. He went from crying at the beginning of lessons to jumping in! I'm glad Josh has worked his magic on other children as well!

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