Swimmer with autism makes strides for self and team

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

It's an often used platitude that it's how a team plays the game, not that game's result, that is most important. For one Orlando-area swimmer, it's not even how he plays the game that's important. Rather, it's how he's part of a team.

Freedom swimmer Ian Soules
Freedom swimmer Ian Soules

As reported by the Orlando Sentinel, Ian Soules was born with autism and has struggled to cope with the condition throughout his life. As part of a series of potential coping mechanisms, Soules tried swimming, which his mother, Celeste Sychterz-Soules, said clearly helped his social skills and general development.

"Swimming makes me happy," Soules told the Sentinel. "It makes me feel like I can do anything. It makes me feel important."

That led to the Soules family's search for the best venue in which Ian Soules could swim. What they found was an incredibly embracing Orlando (Fla.) Freedom High swim team, for which he recently swam in the 50-meter freestyle event at the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 3A District 3 meet.

How embracing has the Freedom squad been? Just consider this anecdote, from Sychterz-Soules:

"I had several members of the team that came up to me and said, 'Hey, homecoming is tonight. Is Ian going to homecoming?' '' Sychterz-Soules said. "I was like, 'No, maybe next year.' And they said, 'Well, why not? He needs to go to homecoming.' I said, 'He doesn't even have a date.' Then one of them said, 'Well, I would have asked him.'

"The teenagers I have encountered both at Freedom and on this team have been nothing but mature, loving and accepting."

As a result, Soules has improved so significantly that his family is considering tracking him out of special needs classes and in to classes with the rest of the school's population. That would be the ultimate accomplishment for Soules … and perhaps the his family as well.

Needless to say, they feel that he couldn't have improved so significantly without swimming.

"He sees his teammates in school and they high-five him,'' Sychterz-Soules said. "They eat lunch with him. They joke with him. He's just like one of the team, and as a parent, that's all I could ever hope for.''

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