Queens insider

Nonprofit holds adaptive swim clinic

Royals swimmer Emma Durante organized First Swim Clinic on March 28

By Joe Habina Correspondent

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Adaptive swim instructor Jason Wening, 40, is a congenital amputee, meaning he was born without fully developed legs. He is also a five-time Paralympic gold medalist.

With his legs supported by two prostheses starting just below his knees, Wening recently stood before a gathering of 15 participants on the pool deck at Queens University of Charlotte’s Levine Center and spoke from experience.

“Today is about where you want to get to,” Wening said in his opening remarks at the Orthotic and Prosthetic Activities Foundation’s First Swim Clinic on March 28.

Minutes later, adults and children alike took the plunge into the shallow water with different perspectives about where they wanted to get.

Some of the participants were amputees with goals of learning new ways of entering and exiting a pool. Others had their own unique diagnoses and special needs, with hopes of finding a sport that could provide them with recreation and socialization.

OPAF is a Charlotte-based nonprofit agency that develops and implements adaptive recreational clinics for people with physical and mobility challenges. Robin Burton is the executive director and the organization’s only employee.

With logistical help of volunteers and sponsors, and financial support from private donors and manufacturers and distributors of orthotic and prosthetic equipment, OPAF has conducted free First Clinics in more than half of the 50 states.

OPAF holds First Clinics for 15 sports, including tennis, golf, scuba diving, rock climbing and cycling. Over the next couple years, OPAF plans to adopt a more holistic approach to its mission and will conduct clinics in gardening, nutrition and art.

“Everyone’s situation is different,” said Burton, who has been OPAF’s leader since 2005. “In 99.9 percent of them, it’s the desire of the community seeking quality adaptive recreation. And that’s what we provide.”

Last weekend’s First Swim Clinic is Charlotte’s only OPAF event this year. On April 11, OPAF will hold a First Cycle Clinic in Greenville, S.C.

Charlotte’s First Swim Clinic was initiated by Queens University swimmer Emma Durante, who admits to having quite an eventful senior year. Last month, Queens’ women’s and men’s swimming teams both won NCAA Division II national championships.

Durante, who plans on obtaining her master’s degree in occupational therapy after her spring graduation from Queens, first contacted Burton in December about coordinating a clinic. Burton secured sponsorships from two companies in the prosthetic and orthotics industry: Ability Prosthetics and Orthotics, and Paceline Advanced Medical Solutions.

“Being a Queens swimmer, I felt I could arrange for the pool,” said Durante, who helped recruit participants. “I had the team to help out and I had the drive to do it.”

At the First Swim Clinic, 17 Royals swimmers assisted Wening by helping participants get in and out of the pool, and by providing one-on-one attention to the swimmers once they were in the water.

Queens swimmer McKenzie Stevens assisted 7-year-old Amaree Leggett, an Eastover Elementary first grader who is completely blind. His mother, Teresa Peterson, says she has had trouble finding recreational activities for her son.

Despite shivering in the pool’s chilly waters, Amaree enjoyed kicking and splashing and being led around the pool by Stevens. Halfway through the clinic, Peterson felt that Amaree was getting over his nervousness and enjoying the water.

University City resident April Little, 13, born with cerebral palsy, is also looking for an activity. April’s mobility is limited and she uses crutches. Once she entered the Levine Center pool, however, April was free of her limitations.

“I’ve learned how to do the double backstroke,” said April. “This will help me, and maybe I will be able to help some other people in the future.”

>>Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at joehabina@gmail.com.