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Nearly blind swimmer wins races, inspires her teammates

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She's not quite blind, but there's little doubting the fact that Shelby Kappler has serious sight problems. In fact, the people who might not be convinced of that are the people she beats in the pool.

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Skyview swimmer Shelby Kappler

Skyview swimmer Shelby Kappler

The trick is, there are plenty more of those these days, a testament to a remarkable achievement by a high school junior still coming to grips with the effects of severe Stargardt disease, an ocular disorder that leads to severe, acute loss of vision.

That vision is precisely what Kappler is missing, but according to Matt Calkins, a reporter for the Columbian, that has hardly slowed the teen at all. After she decided to go out for the Skyview (Wash.) High swimming team during her sophomore year, Kappler hardly hesitated, waffling on her commitment to the sport in her first day after struggling with staying afloat in the deep end, then pushing full speed ahead.

Eventually, the inspiring teen evolved into a talented butterfly and breaststroke specialist for the Skyview swimming team. In addition to those speciality strokes, Calkins reported that Kappler won her heats in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle races at a recent meet.

All of that success comes despite constant struggles with flip turns, a natural side effect of Kappler's lack of depth perception. Still, that has hardly dimmed Kappler's love of the sport, or her view on life. Her happy demeanor tends to cheer her teammates up … and inspire her head coach.

"It's pretty amazing what she's doing," Skyview swimming coach Ron Heidenreich told the Columbian.

That's an understatement. Just ask the other swimmers she beat in those freestyle heats.

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