U to host firstnational disability swimming meet

Jeremy Taff

The first-ever U.S.A. Swimming Disability Championships kicked off Thursday afternoon at the University Aquatic Center, an event that brought world-class competitors together from across the country.
More than 100 swimmers signed up for the meet, which begins today. Competitors, parents, coaches and volunteers gathered outside the Aquatic Center for a pasta dinner while a bluegrass band jammed in the parking lot.
Swim meet co-director Gail Dummer said the event is groundbreaking because it brings so many kinds of competitors with disabilities to the forefront.
“This event has allowed every disability group to participate,” Dummer said. She said other tournaments and sports usually single out a disability.
Michigan graduate student Jason Wening, who started swimming in third grade, takes his prosthetic legs off before he competes to decrease his time. It works.
Wening holds the world record in four events: the 400 individual medley, and 400, 800 and 1,500 freestyles.
“It’s like playing king of the mountain, almost,” Wening says of staying at the top. “There’s always somebody just a little bit behind me.”
In Atlanta at the 1996 Paralympic Games, Wening said he would have lost the record in the 400 freestyle if he hadn’t beaten his own time.
Unlike the able-bodied swimming championships, this tournament ranks players by disability type, severity of the disability and sex. Coaches and volunteers formally evaluated swimmers’ disabilities Thursday then matched them against similar competitors.
Blind and visually impaired swimmers who qualify will compete at the 1998 International Blind Sports Association World Championships in Madrid, Spain in July. Swimmers with physical and cognitive disabilities such as autism who qualify will compete at the 1998 International Paralympic Committee World Swimming Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand, in October.
Jeannine Dennis is the head-starter for this competition. She said while officiating the Paralympics in Atlanta in 1996 she became attached to the athletes.
“There are six volunteers for every athlete who is here,” Dennis said. “Not out of pity, out of love.”
The tournament goes from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today, Saturday and Sunday.
Wening said he hopes University students will come check out the tournament.
“I think they’d be surprised by what they saw,” he said.