Future Reflections         Special Issue: The Teen Years

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Strokes to the Finish Line

An Interview with Jason Polansky

Jason Polanski swims in Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia.From the Editor: Over the past several months, Jason Polansky has been featured in a number of articles and TV news programs in Maryland. He is the only blind student on his high school's varsity swim team. I asked Jason to share his experiences with the readers of Future Reflections, and here is what he told me in an interview.

Deborah Kent Stein: Hi, Jason. Please tell me a bit about yourself and where you go to school. What sort of program are you in?

Jason Polansky: I'm fourteen and I'm a ninth grader at Catoctin High School. I'm completely mainstreamed but I have vision services in science class every day.

DKS: When did you learn to swim?

JP: I've been swimming since I was three years old. I took lessons at a college near our house. Now I have a membership there so I can practice in the pool and the gym. My mom and dad have always been very supportive of my swimming.

DKS: Did you have to try out to get on your high school team?

JP: They didn't really hold tryouts. There was room for thirty new kids, so I just signed up. Anybody was allowed to join.

DKS: How did the coach respond to the idea of having you on the team?

JP: The coach was my English teacher, so she already knew me. She seemed very comfortable having me join.

DKS: What was the response of your teammates?

JP: Most of them hadn't ever known a blind person before, so I guess at first they weren't sure what I could do. By now we're all getting used to each other and it's not a big deal.

DKS: Do you use any alternative techniques when you swim with your team?

JP: At meets a teammate stands by the side of the pool with a long pole that has a tennis ball on the end of it and touches my head with the ball when I get near the end of the pool. Also there's a lane guard I can feel. I keep it on one side so I can swim straight.

DKS: Do you specialize in any particular stroke?

JP: Right now I swim freestyle and breast stroke, and I'm working on butterfly. I swim fifty yards in freestyle and in freestyle relays. The relay can be two hundred or four hundred yards, with four people swimming. I've also done the hundred-yard breast stroke and the two hundred-yard medley relay, where each person uses a particular stroke.

DKS: How has the season gone for you so far?

JP: I haven't won a medal yet, and I'm generally placing somewhere in the middle. It's my first season and right now I'm working to get better and faster. Mostly I'm competing against myself.

DKS: There have been a lot of stories about you in the news lately. How do you feel about getting so much media attention?

JP: In a way I feel like it isn't fair. I'm really not all that remarkable. A lot of other people are as good as I am. But the good part of it is I have a chance to show that blind people can do things like everybody else.

DKS: So you see this as a chance to help educate the public?

JP: I don't have a problem being well-known, but I don't want it to go to my head. I want people to know that anybody can do anything they're passionate about.

DKS: What are some of your other interests besides swimming?

JP: I like tandem cycling, and I'm active in our church youth group. We went on a mission trip to Racine, Wisconsin, and helped do repairs on people's houses. Most of the houses belonged to elderly people who couldn't manage their own repairs. I learned to use a six-foot roller to paint walls and ceilings. Last summer I went to Buddy Camp at BLIND, Inc., and I learned a lot of stuff up there.

DKS: Do you plan to continue swimming competitively after this year?

JP: I'd like to stay on the swim team through high school. Then I'll see if I want to go further. It's still too early to know for sure.

DKS: Thank you for giving this interview. Good luck with whatever you decide to do.

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