Students provide aquatic service for children

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    By Christianne Salisbury

    The child-like smiles of yesterday, come alive each week as hundreds of children make their way to the RB pool to swim with the “big kids” at BYU.

    Steven Heath, an 11-year-old with cerebral palsy is just one of the many children who come every Thursday and Friday, from 15 schools in the area, to participate in Adaptive Aquatics.

    Steven was born with a prolapsed cord depriving him of oxygen. The first two years of his life he was fed through a tube in his nose.

    Although he can’t speak, he shares his excitement with everyone around him.

    “When he’s excited, he tries to talk; because he’s so excited he can’t sign,” said Tina Judd, Steven’s sister, 21, a senior, majoring in exercise science from Chicago.

    Because Steven is small and his muscles are tight he can’t swim by himself and gets really excited that someone is willing to help him, Judd said.

    “He wants to be able to do it himself, but he can’t,” Judd said.

    Steven has attended Adaptive Aquatics every week since the his family moved to Provo from Chicago this July.

    “I’ve never seen him more excited,” Judd said. “Every week he begs me to come swim with him or just to watch.”

    When Steven was younger he had to have surgery and get tubes in his ears. The doctors gave him earplugs to wear when he was in water, but they would always fall out, making it impossible for him to swim, Judd said. Now that he can get in the water, it’s his favorite thing to do.

    “He would swim everyday if he could,” Judd said.

    Students like Steven enjoy the opportunity to get to interact with normal people.

    “When Steven would come home from Primary, he would ask what was wrong with him,” Judd said. “He wants to be like everyone else.”

    Because of Steven’s condition he can’t participate in a lot of the activities others can. It is hard for him to even stand up.

    “Swimming is one of the few activities he can do with normal people,” Judd said. “He can do a lot of things in water, he can’t do on the ground.”

    Sue Ann Heath, Steven’s mother said that Steven is capable of learning because he has no fear of the water.

    “He may never be able to do a good crawl stroke, but he is capable of learning,” Heath said.

    Although doctors haven’t mentioned the benefits of water as therapy, it’s obvious that it’s beneficial, Heath said.

    “The water provides a resistance he has to work through,” Heath said.

    Jeff Keller, 24, a senior from Sugar City, Idaho majoring in Russian, has volunteered every week for a year.

    Working with the mentally and physically challenged in any situation is so rewarding. You look forward to going everyday because you get to help someone, Keller said.

    “The kids like having a friend, someone they can play with and talk to,” Keller said.

    Volunteers like Keller come from 10:55 to 11:40 on Thursday or Friday to swim with children with a variety of disabilities.

    “What’s an hour? It’s nothing to see someone smile,” Keller said.

    Misha Hutchings, the program director of adaptive aquatics has been involved for over a year.

    I had no idea, until I got involved, that the volunteers that come each week have such a profound affect on those they swim with, Hutchings said.

    “I have now realized that sometimes the little things we do for people make the biggest difference,” Hutchings said.

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