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An open letter!

January 10, 2012
South High Boy's Swimming & Diving

An open letter to the girls. parents and coaches of the SHAWA swim team,


My daughter just finished what was probably the most intense, hardest, yet most memorable and fun three months of her life. When she looks back, these will definitely be her “glory days.” I have all you to thank for this.


From the moment we approached the information table at Washburn for sports sign-up, Tanya has been welcomed. We had gone to school that night with a pipe dream of participating in a regular activity, something she has not done since t-ball in 1st grade. I thought maybe she could have some fun, maybe get some exercise – at least in practices, and possibly find some kids who would say hi to her in the hall or wave to her in the lunchroom. Being in the special ed program, these are commonly the only chances she gets to see “the regular kids.”


I have been overwhelmed when, at each turn, she has been included like any other swimmer.


 In realizing that she was in the odd situation of being both a senior and new to the team, I prepared Tanya for her role in your “families.” I said it’ll surely be fine for her to not be a mom because it’s her first year and she’s in no position to help others figure out what’s going on. But the girls solved that issue with three moms in her family.


She can’t jump off the blocks,…so she starts in the water.


She simply does not have the same abilities or stamina that other girls do,…so you swam around her. (I know, it would have been nice if she stayed closer to the lane lines.) Both the coaches and girls helped her compete, and cheered on her progress.


She has made enormous strides in her swimming ability and her fitness level trying to keep up with you. (as you all probably have). She has never been pushed to work so hard at something and from where I sit, she has responded with flying colors. The adaptive phy-ed teacher at Washburn said if she can swim on the swim team, she can be in a regular gym class, too. I fully expect that when she swims for her Special Olympics team this winter she will blow everyone out of the water with her newly honed skills.


The physical benefits are enormous, the rigorous practices have paid off. But the social and emotional benefits are without bounds. You have given her things and experiences she has never had, and you seemingly take it for granted to include her.


Previously, she had never jumped in a lake at 5:30 and played get-to-know-you games.


She had never gone to a sleepover.


She had never done a car wash.


She had never had a friend give her a ride in a car.


She surely has never participated in a high school sporting event.


The list goes on and on. The pasta parties and being welcomed to so many homes. Getting her hair braided on the bus. Sharing an earbud with someone who likes what’s on her i-pod. Learning cheers. Having matching outfits. Getting her hair dyed in a hotel bathroom, (by the way, everyone loved it so much, I’m wondering what color it was and who’s gonna dye it again when this wears out.) Having new contacts on her phone and having someone show her how to text (even if she doesn’t really get it.) Standing in a group outside the school waiting together for the bus to go to practice. Having help (not from her mom) with her hair or cap. Getting not just a wave in the hallway but a hug! These are things she had not done before SHAWA.


I was around a lot. I thank you for your patience in putting up with my constant picture taking, but you’ll have to excuse me, I want to remember everything that happens for this short time because these are truly Tanya’s senior pictures.


There may be groups of girls in different grades. There may be groups of girls who swim at different levels. There may be groups of girls from different schools, but what I saw was just a big group of girls, who, led by some amazing captains and other seniors, accepted my daughter in a way she has never experienced before.


When you are young, you may judge the people around you by many criteria; what they wear, how smart they are, how cute they are, how popular they are, how they smell, their sense of humor, what sport they play, how they talk, but I’ll tell you all something. When you grow up and have kids, you will judge people (at least to some degree) by how they treat your kids. I judge you, one and all, to be fine people. You have treated Tanya with kindness, and respect, and friendship. You have expected her to do everything, and she has. (Special education teachers could learn a lot from you.) You have respectfully helped her when she needed it and left her to do things herself when she didn’t.


Being born with Down syndrome obviously means you have special needs, and require special education. But it doesn’t mean your “wants” are any different. You just want to be liked and have friends and have fun and be proud of your accomplishments and praised for your  best efforts, just like everyone else…and I think it’s ironic that Tanya feels most “special” just being one of the girls.


Thank you to the SHAWA coaches for not only helping Tanya be her best ( and figuring out a way for her to swim her beloved butterfly and 100 IM!) and expecting a lot from her, but fostering an atmosphere of acceptance that pervades this team.


Thank you to all the parents who raised these fine girls that made it seem natural to welcome Tanya to their team.


And most of all, thank you to all the girls who swim and dive for SHAWA. You are amazing young women. Thanks for the memories.


Jane Hagen

This letter was featured in 2012 Winter Bulletin of The Minnesota State High School League 2012 Winter Bulletin 


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