NEW TAMPA – Kass Pilczuk believes everyone is born with the will to win, no matter how the cards are dealt.
She has first-hand proof to back up her way of thinking.
Pilczuk is the Tampa YMCA adaptive coordinator, which means she heads up programs for people with physical and mental disabilities.
Aquatics is one of them.
On a recent Sunday morning, she was front and center with clipboard in hand for the New Tampa Y’s third annual Cinco de Mayo Adaptive Swim Meet for people with mental and physical disabilities ranging in age from 5 to 45.
“They love it and they are here to win,” Pilczuk said. “By winning, I mean they are here to beat their own previous times.”
The competition included swimmers from the Tampa Y’s adaptive aquatics program, Paralympic Sport Tampa Bay and Man O War, a Special Olympics team from Orlando.
“From my perspective, I think it’s more rewarding than regular swim meets,” said Pilczuk, who’s headed up the aquatics program since 2004.
“You feel so much more elated because they are able to grasp and accomplish what they set out to do,” she added.
She also noted that special rules apply to swimmers with physical disabilities in that they are not required to do leg kicks. But that’s not the case, she said, for the intellectually challenged participants.
They are also divided into two groups: one for swimmers with severe disabilities and another for those with lesser debilities.
“I just think it’s a great opportunity for these swimmers,” said Monica Mirza, the New Tampa YMCA executive director. “They just find so much glory in what they accomplish.”
What’s even greater, added Mirza, is that the adaptive swim program is free with Y membership. Plus, the membership fee is waived for those who cannot afford it.
Andy Chasanoff, coordinator of Paralympic Sport Tampa Bay, brought five of his athletes from his program that consists of youngsters and young adults with physical disabilities.
“It’s a great opportunity for them to put what they’ve learned into practice and into competition and it gives them a good baseline,” he said.
Mark Brown of Lutz was in awe of how well his 12-year-old William was doing on the Y’s team.
Like most autistic children, William often has difficulty socializing and staying focused, but his intense love for the water helped to minimize those issues.
“This is his first swim meet and it’s been an exceptional experience,” Brown said. “It gives these kids a lot of confidence.”
But it was William who told the story best.
“I had a great time and I got to see my friends swim really fast,” he said.
Joyce McKenzie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org