Swim meet a celebration of hard work
BY PATRICK MASON
Sunday, May 13, 2018
The doors leading into the pool were propped open. Screams of joy and sounds of splashing water rang out across the first floor of the building.
The Harrison Family YMCA held a two-day swim meet last week in the large competition pool that can be seen from the lobby. The swim meets, held Tuesday and Thursday, were not as much about competition as they were a celebration of the Y’s adaptive swimming program.
The program is designed to help those with special needs become water safe, while exercising and learning different strokes. The program benefits children from elementary school through high school in the Nash-Rocky Mount and Edgecombe County public school systems.
The annual competition displays the hard work and time that the athletes spent all year in front of family, friends and fellow athletes who cheered on the participants each day. This isn’t just a swim meet. Instead, it’s a display of progress honed in countless hours of practice.
The Y blocks off time and lanes each weekday to accommodate the program. Swim coach Yvonne Wilkins has an adaptive swimming background and spearheaded the program when the Y was located in downtown Rocky Mount. Wilkins still works with the group as well as coaching the Y Racers in the evenings.
“So the kids come from the schools and they practice Monday through Friday,” YMCA aquatics director Kaila Billups said. “They practice swimming, and this is the end-of-year celebration meet.
“A lot of them come in at first and have never been in the water. And some come in and don’t have bathing suits or goggles.”
The lack of equipment has been taken care of by a generous 10-year-old.
Maddie Girouard, a member of the Y swim team, helped supply some essentials needed to swim. Girouard was awarded with a couple prestigious awards for her efforts in starting a program last summer called Swimmer Helping Swimmer.
She collected swimsuits and other swim essentials for those with special needs. Things like goggles, bathing suits and towels were collected, and some participants used that equipment this past week. She set up a bin in the pool area for donations. Girouard also asked for donations to her cause instead of gifts for her most recent birthday.
“She did a drive of swimsuits and was able to collect all the towels and goggles so the kids could participate,” Billups said. “She volunteered, too, and a few swimmers came in without suits and towels, which she was able to provide for them.”
The program has been around for more than a half-century and grows in numbers each year. The meet added a second day several years ago to accommodate the amount of kids.
The two-day event has been a hit ever since, with 225 swimmers competing each day. The pool deck was busy, as 45 volunteers helped keep the event running smoothly with timing, assistance in and out the pool and lifeguarding. Also, corporate sponsors supplied food for the event.
Look closely and this meet is just like any other. It is becoming more involved, with the backstroke being added to the event list.
“It makes it more challenging,” Billups said. “And the practices are more intentional. These kids are learning the strokes just like any other kid.”
Some people using the Y for a workout stopped by the pool to see what was going on. The fun was too contagious to pass up.
“When they walk in the building and walk onto the pool deck, they turn their heads for all positive reasons,” Billups said. “They’re screaming when they walk in out of excitement, and screaming when they’re mad when they have to leave. Their faces really light up when they’re in the water.
“It’s one of of the best things that we do. In our community I feel like special needs kids are under-served, and I love that the Y is able to do things like this.”