He didn’t want to go. He was adamant. “No swimming! No swim team!”

I tried to cajole him by telling him it’d be fun. He repeated it louder this time – an inflection in his voice to make his point. “No swim TEEEEAM.”

Crossing my arms I sighed and considered the options. For the past few months Stone hasn’t shown interest in swimming and the swim team as he had before. The few times I suggested going again, he immediately shot it down.

“No swimming!”

It puzzled me because swimming has always been his favorite activity. After a successful first season of Special Olympics swim team last Spring, we were excited to learn that the Mukilteo YMCA and local Special Olympics team would be opening up a year-round program for kids who wanted to practice swimming in a supportive environment – with volunteers on hand to assist.

The major goal (and obstacle) still facing Stone was putting his head and face in the water. I worked with him all summer and was successful getting him to immerse his head underwater – but only with a special swim mask. Without the mask he was still hesitant – he was mostly afraid of swallowing water I think.

He worked with a couple of very nice volunteers during his hour-long sessions and made a little progress. He would quickly drop his face under water about up to his forehead for a nano-second and bounce back up.

I was giving up hope that he’d ever get to the point where he’d swim with his head submerged – like most typical swimmers. And it bothered me because I know the one thing I can’t do as his father is allow myself to give up hope for him and progress. But he wasn’t clicking with the volunteers and now he didn’t even want to go back to the pool.

Although I’d allowed him to skip previous swim practices today I was determined that he was going to go – I really believe he needs outside activity (as do all of us) that gets him exercise (if nothing else). So I used the world’s oldest parenting trick – and bribed him.

“Stone – if you go swimming today I’ll buy you a treat afterwards.” He looked at me and said it one more time. “No swim team!” I decided to try again. “Swimming – and then candy. Come one Stone, you’ll like it.” He relented and said “Swimming. Then candy.”

I should interject here to point out that we’re so fortunate that the swim team is managed by a very dedicated and special organizer – Jim Russell. Jim made his mark in local business by building (and recently selling) his successful accounting firm, James Russell, PLLC. A father of a special needs son himself, Jim has thrown himself into building and managing the Edmonds Stingrays Special Olympics family – which has grown to more than 65 families and dozens of local volunteers in the region. Through this experience he’s become a trusted friend and advisor to me personally and professionally.

I spoke with Jim during Stone’s brief swimming sabbatical about his hesitation and we agreed that when he returned to the pool, matching him up with a new volunteer who he liked and trusted would be the top priority.

When we arrived at the pool this morning, Stone’s earlier hesitation disappeared and he seemed eager to get back into the pool again. Jim greeted us and introduced us to Stone’s new swimming volunteer: Slava – a high school competitive swimmer (among the state’s best). I explained to Slava where we were with Stone’s swimming progress and told him that my only real goal today was making sure Stone had fun in the pool so that he’d look forward to it again. I also told him that we had tried to get his face in the water with mixed success so to try his best but just try to connect with him. He nodded and when we introduced Stone to him Stone immediately tried giving him a hug. There was an instant connection. Into the pool they went.

My expectations were low as far as any real progress today. So I was thrilled when I saw Slava working with Stone and getting him to submerse his face beyond the previous forehead level. He would count to 3 and get him to dunk his head. Stone was becoming more comfortable with it the more they did it. I suggested that they hold hands and try going under water – so Stone would feel safer. This seemed to do the trick. Suddenly they were dunking their heads long and longer. I could see the hesitation and fear leaving Stone.

Slava did a great job of alternating activities and drills with Stone. They practiced dunking for a few minutes and then he had him swim a lap or two and then use a kick board for a lap or two – and then back to dunking. The variety – and routine – resonated with Stone. He was engaged. He was swimming. He was trying to emulate the backstroke – even if it was for a few strokes – but all for the first time. I was beaming and elated.

For the final 15 minutes or so Slava introduced Stone to diving for rings underwater. Stone was quite adept at picking up the ring from the pool bottom with his feet so it took awhile for him to understand he needed to use his hands to grab it. He never quite got there today – but he came very close and each attempt kept him under water longer and longer.

Needless to say, today was a huge success. And I learned (or relearned) a huge lesson: never give up hope or place limits on our kids. Yes there will be setbacks and plateaus but this was proof that we just don’t know when that breakthrough can happen.

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