National High School Coaches Association

Wheelchair to Swimming Pool

Wheelchair to Swimming Pool

Imagine trying to swim with only half of your body. Sounds like a one-way ticket to a watery grave, but it's something that Jackson High junior Joel White does on a regular basis.

For most of White's average day he is confined to a wheelchair that's to spina bifida, a condition that he has had to deal with from birth, but in the water he keeps up with the best of them. He won five events at the National Junior Sports Festival swim meet in New London, Conn. in late June.

Competing against other with disabilities, including at least a couple that did not have use of their legs, White set two meet records in grabbing his five wins.

"I knew that I would be pretty competitive," White said. "I was pretty confident, but the two records were in events that I least expected. That's what was amazing to me."

One of those unexpected records came in the 50-meter butterfly in which he swam a 1:05. His previous best had been a 1:27. He also set a new mark in the 200-freestyle.

"I had a lot of adrenaline," White offered. "I wanted to win."

He also earned victories in the 50-freestyle, the 100-freestyle and the 50-breaststroke.

The performance drew praise from his coach, Rob Steinberg.

"He set two national records and those records were set by some people that have gone on to swim in the world championships at the senior level," Steinberg said. "Because of his seed times he was raving against older kids and kids with lesser disability. He far exceeded out expectations. We couldn't have asked for a whole lot more."

Spina bifida is something that White has dealt with his entire life.

"When I was born there was a hole in part of my spine and I had to have surgery to get it connected," White explained. "Because of the way my spine is it damaged nerves in my back and so my legs aren't very strong to where I can't move them to walk."

Despite his disabilities, White has been active his whole life. He played for years wither the Challenger Baseball program and five years ago started swimming regularly with the Special Olympics program, the Stark Sharks.

"I've always like the water," he said, "The first thing was that I learned how to float. They taught me how to float in the Special Olympics, and the different strokes. My upper body has gotten strong enough that I can get moving and stay on top of the water."

As if to compensate for not having use of his legs, White's upper body is solid and muscular.

"The upper body is the sole source of momentum for a push off, a turn, a start and the stroke itself," Steinberg said. "When it is your upper body, that's and incredible feat alone."

After swimming with the Sharks program, White started swimming for Jackson program as a freshman and he quickly made an impression on Polar Bear coach Jack Gardner.

"He's a remarkable kid," Gardner said "He has the heart of a lion. He's always moving forward. Out team loves him."

It was a little over a year and a half ago that White decided to take his swimming to the next level. That was when he joined Sam Seiple's Canton City Schools program and came under the direction of Steinberg.

White credits much of his success to the CCS program and Steinberg.

"I've made a lot of friends," White Said. "My time is dropping and my training is the best it has ever been."

With his performance in Connecticut still a recent memory, White has his next goal set.

"Right now I want to keep training hard and next July I want to go to Long Beach, California for the Para Olympic Trials," White said.

"That's the Olympics for disabled people. I just want to train hard and get to that."