Residents Dive Deep into Life at Mountain Shadows Swim Program

By Sheryl Wilde

“Peace is knowing that I did everything I possibly could have done, that something beautiful will come out of this, and that I will come back stronger than ever before.” ~ Missy Franklin, 5-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer.

Ty Marri is 11 years old. Before last January, he was a normal kid who loved sports. He was adventurous, confident, outgoing and very active. Then he was in a car accident and his whole life changed in an instant.

Due to injuries from the accident, Ty Marri is no longer able to walk.

“This is a key time for Ty Marri,” says Shannon Reilly, Mountain Shadows, Riverside. “He came to Mountain Shadows about a month ago. There is a possibility he may be able to walk again and NOW is the time to help him. We’re helping him with physical therapy, getting other treatment programs set-up, and getting special equipment ordered to help with his recovery.

“One of the first things his mother told us is that, before the accident, Ty Marri really wanted to learn to swim. His mother was very nervous about it, because she didn’t know how to swim. When she hesitated, he took matters into his own hands – and after just one week of practicing in the bathtub, he said to her with great self-confidence that he could swim on his own now.

“Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to demonstrate his newfound skill before his dream came crashing down after the car accident.

“The Mountain Shadows Foundation is generously sponsoring our swim program again this year, so I asked Ty Marri if he’d like to try it. He said yes.

“His body is especially weak on one side and it took a lot of time, a lot of time, with the instructor having to cradle him in the water just to help him float. But together they did it. Then, slowly, they started to show him some strokes and how to kick and stand in the water. He did that too.

“Then the instructor encouraged him to walk in the water. At first, it was sad. He was afraid to try because he’d lost confidence in his body’s ability to do what he wanted it to do.

“It took a LOT of persuasion, but Marianna, the instructor kept encouraging him, saying, ‘Come on you can do it!’ Ty Marri likes to repeat things, so then he started repeating everything Marianna said, ‘Come on you can do it!’ he said, willing his body to comply with his words.

“Marianna took ahold of his weak foot and helped him position it in the water to take a first step.

“Come on you can do it!” she urged him on.

“Come on you can do it!” he repeated, struggling to move his stronger leg, again willing it to move.

“Then Marianna took that foot, placing one foot in front of the other, and he took his first step since the accident!

“You can do it!” Marianna was jumping and shouting now, urging him forward.

“You can do it! You can do it! You can do it!”

“Ty Marri was smiling and yelling – repeating after Marianna. It was a really big moment for him.

“Everyone in the pool was watching them at that point. There was pop music playing and everyone, all of the instructors, started dancing in the pool to celebrate. It was such an incredible moment. It was his first physical step! It was in the water, but it was a step!!! And it was his first step toward regaining confidence back in his own body.

“Brian is another young man who participates in the swim program. He came to us from a higher level care facility. He has no family and the other facility had very little information about him.

“When he first came to us, he was very standoffish, very defensive. We didn’t push him too hard and after some time, he started to warm up to some of the staff. He started to express himself a little – to express what he likes. Then one day, he walked! We didn’t even know he could walk.

“We thought the swim program would be helpful to him, so we asked if he wanted to participate and he said yes.

“During the first class, he was very anxious. He was so scared when we lowered him into the pool. It was a lot to ask. He needed to trust the instructor and himself. I don’t think he’d ever had anyone in his life he could trust before.

“But by the end of classes, he relaxed a little. Not completely, but he let us help him, he let us take care of him. That was a huge step! We were able to meet halfway. After a lot of work, he was able to stand in the water with minimal assistance. He was able to do it! That was pretty good. And, because of this work we’ve been doing with him in the swim program, he’s beginning to trust us and, more importantly, himself.

“Another young man, he’s non-verbal and has severe intellectual disabilities, also has trust issues. He was abandoned by his family and sometimes lashes out at others.

“He can’t speak, but he likes to clap. Clapping is his way of saying he’s in a good mood.

“The swim instructors worked very hard to make him feel safe. They showed him no one will push him away, even if he lashes out. They showed him that he won’t be abandoned again.

“By the end of classes he was clapping like crazy! It was like he was saying, ‘Things are good – I applaud this moment!’

“Christina from Maverick House is 19 years old. She also participated in the swim program. She has a mild intellectual disability, is legally blind, and has a brain tumor. She lived at home until last August. Then she decided she wanted to move out and be more independent. She said she’s an adult now and wanted to live on her own.

“It was a difficult transition for her as she does need a lot of support, but she has come to love Mountain Shadows. She loves living here. And she loves her housemates. She calls them her sisters and really takes care of them. She holds their hands and hugs them if anything is wrong.

“And she just loves swimming! She talks about it constantly. She likes routine, so every night before swimming classes, she gets her bag packed and has her sunscreen ready to go!

“She’s doing great in the pool. She does the doggie paddle and puts her head under water. The social interaction and physical exercise have helped her enormously.”

“There were 23 kids in the swim program this year,” says Fred Lindahl, Development Director, Mountain Shadows Foundation. “The Foundation is delighted to support such an extraordinary program that benefits our residents beyond our expectations.”

Learning to walk again.

Learning to trust oneself and others.

Learning to become more independent.

Yes, something beautiful has come out of the Mountain Shadows swim program, and our residents have come back home to us stronger than ever before.

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