Monday, July 23, 2012

Autistic sixth-grader racing to the top in swimming league

Anthony Walker learns by watching others, but on Saturday the Hallsville sixth-grader — who has high-functioning Autism — might be the swimmer to watch at the East Texas Summer Swim League’s annual All-Star Meet.

The meet, hosted by the Longview Swim Club, is set to begin at 9 a.m. at the LeTourneau University pool. Swimmers who participate in the meet must have placed in the top 16 in any event they competed in at the league’s championship meet.

Anthony, 13, didn’t begin to communicate verbally until he was six and didn’t begin swimming until he was nine but his prowess in the pool is turning heads.

“He’s been swimming with the Champion Aquatic Team and Clark Wilson for the last 3 1/2 years and has been a member of the ETSSL for four years,” Anthony’s mother, Sharon Wellman said. “He wasn’t able to compete in any other sports because he just didn’t understand them, but he’s done great as a swimmer and I think at the least he’s going to be a very good high school swimmer.”

Wellman adopted Anthony when he was nine days old. He started school in Gladewater, and the family moved to Hallsville when he was six. According to Wellman, Anthony’s learning goes through phases. He has been in mainstream classes, and last year was in Lifeskills and resource classes because he had not progressed in reading.

“But, he has started taking off again,” she said. “That’s just the way it goes. He won’t get it, won’t get it. ...and then all at once it clicks.”

His swimming abilities clicked almost immediately, and he made All-Stars by winning the 50-yard breaststroke, placing second in the 50-yard freestyle and finishing third in the 50-yard butterfly. He also placed third in the boys 100-yard individual medley and anchored the CAT medley team’s second-place finish.

“Anthony is a visual learner,” Wellman said. “He learns by watching the other swimmers and they have been great with him. They help him get to his blocks and to know which stroke to do. He’s come a long way and had to overcome many obstacles to accomplish what he has been able to do. He hopes to go to college some day if we can continue to improve his reading. It’s very gratifying to know this is something he can do and enjoy the rest of his life. If he can go to college and do that, great, but if not it’s still a great sport for him.”

NOTES: For the All-Star meet, swimmers choose three events to swim (freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, individual medley or butterfly). Events are held by gender, age group and stroke, with medals awarded for first through third and ribbons for fourth through eighth. High point trophies (first through third) for boys and girls will also be awarded for each age group.

The ETSSL consists of 12 teams from East Texas, including the Longview Swim Club, Longview’s Champion Aquatic Team, Ambush (Lufkin and Nacogdoches), Mount Pleasant Splash, Tyler Titans, Marshall Marlins, Tyler Flying Fish, Athens Megalodons, Palestine Piranhas, Apple Gators (Tyler), Tyler Tennis and Swim and Hollytree (Tyler).


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