News Article Details

FSU swim teams parter with Autism Society of W.Va.

Times West Virginian - 10/2/2017

Oct. 02--FAIRMONT -- The Fairmont State University men's and women's swim teams spent their Sundays the past four weeks as "buddies" to children associated with the Corridor Chapter of the Autism Society of West Virginia as part of a program known as the Autism Swimming Challenge.

The FSU swim teams partnered with the Corridor Chapter to offer free swimming lessons to those children involved in the program. Each participant was partnered with a member of the men or women's swim team who then coached them about water safety and swimming techniques. This is the second year the program has been held at FSU.

"I didn't hesitate when I said I would volunteer our facility and our swimmers," FSU head swim coach Patrick Snively said. "We sort of made the connection last year, and we have heard nothing but positives from the parents and nothing but positives from our swimmers. You can really see how much they enjoy connecting with their buddies. They really become part of our team."

The Corridor Chapter was started about six years ago with the goal to provide social interactions for the children and their families, according to chapter president and parent Lea Robinson. She said that the chapter also provides education for parents, teachers or anyone who deals with children with autism.

"This is a fabulous opportunity for us," Robinson said. "All of the FSU swimmers have been trained in how to socialize with someone with autism and how to coach them. It's been wonderful, and we just love coming here."

Since this is the second year the event has been hosted at FSU, Robinson said that many of the children remember their buddy from last year.

"It's been just as wonderful of an experience as it was last year," FSU senior swimmer Sabrina Buhagiar said. "We have fresh faces with the Corridor Chapter this year, as well as on our swim team, so it's always a pleasure to share this opportunity with our swim buddies from last year and any newcomers that we have to the team."

Buhagiar said that she was able to pair with her buddy from last year and spoke of the progress she had made since then. She said last year the little girl had trouble getting into the water, but this year she did much better, and they even worked on kicking with pool noodles and kickboards.

"This has been the most heartwarming experience," Buhagiar said. "I think that as a team we have been able to befriend these kids and kind of take them in as teammates. We are able to work with them and let them open up and express themselves in any way they want to."

Snively said that while both the FSU swimmers and the Corridor Chapter buddies start off a little nervous in terms of interacting with one another, by the fourth week, there is a real connection.

"We can see it on the kids' faces both buddies and the Fairmont State swimmers," Snively said. "There are smiles all around."

Snively said that not only does FSU have a really gifted group of swimmers, but they are also very willing to chip in and are excited about community service.

"We preach all the time that we have certain God-given talents, and it does us no good not to share them," Snively said.

On Sunday, each participant was awarded a gold medal by Freddie the Falcon during an awards ceremony where they were able to stand on a podium for photos like a real Olympic swimmer at the FSU Feaster Center.

Robinson spoke in gratitude toward the swimmers and coaches of FSU not only as the president of the Corridor Chapter, but as a parent of a child with autism. Robinson's 16-year-old son Johnny participated in the swimming challenge.

"It just makes me so happy because he is getting to do what he loves to do which is getting in the water," Robinson said. "He's getting to socialize and be part of a group. It is very rewarding to see him so happy."

Email Kaitlyn Neff at kneff@timeswv.com and follow her on Twitter @kneffTWV.

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(c)2017 the Times West Virginian (Fairmont, W. Va.)

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