Become a digitalPLUS subscriber. 99¢ for 4 weeks.

Local Paralympic swimmers headed to London

Loyola University Maryland swimming coach Brian Loeffler said he "opened the door" for Becca Meyers, a Loyola Blakefield Aquatics member, and North Baltimore Aquatic Club's Ian Silverman to join the U.S. team in the Paralympic Games in London beginning Aug. 29.

He then left it up to Becca, 17, and Ian, 16, to walk into a new world of competition.

Loeffler, who is also one of the U.S. Paralympic swimming coaches, became acquainted with Becca during a recruiting visit to Loyola and knew about Ian because his sister worked at Rodgers Forge Elementary School when Ian was still a student there.

Ian and Becca have medical reasons — to go along with superb swimming ability — that qualified them for tryouts.

While already having a great deal of success this year as members of their respective championship high school teams, Notre Dame Prep and McDonogh, they qualified for the Paralympics at the trials in Bismark, N.D. in mid-June after advancing to that meet from one in Cincinnati a month earlier.

Moreover, they are slated to take part in what soccer fans might call a "friendly" dual meet against a team from Canada in Winnipeg beginning July 20 before leaving for Stuttgart, Germany, for two weeks of training prior to the real deal in London.

Although both swimmers are considered to be distance freestylers, they will compete in the 50-and-100-meter freestyles and 200 individual medley. Ian will also swim the 400 free and 100 butterfly while Baca will add the 100 breaststroke to her repertoire.

Because she was born profoundly deaf and afflicted with Usher syndrome, Becca has used a cochlear implant — an electronic device that sparks stimulation to a key auditory nerve that allows the teen to hear teachers who "broadcast" to her — since she was a toddler.

"She reads lips fantastically well," said her mother, Maria Meyers, a 1981 NDP graduate. "And there's no deaf tone to her voice. The (cochlear implant) device helps with intonation."

Usher syndrome is the most common condition affecting hearing, balance and vision, often causing night-blindness and a loss of peripheral vision through progressive degeneration of the retina.

For instance, the 5-foot-3, 124-pound Becca can't see below eye level unless she casts her eyes downward.

"Her parents asked if we would be able to accommodate her" special needs, due her hearing issues and failing eyesight, Loeffler said.

That's when Loeffler figured he might have a good Paralympic candidate. His hunch was borne out when it was eventually determined that Becca's vision was limited enough for her to compete as a Paralympian.

Loeffler said he approached Ian and his mom, Dawn, about trying out for the team. They mulled the prospect for a weekend before deciding to give it a try.

Not only are Ian's challenges different from Becca's, his stature (6-feet-2, 165 pounds and growing rapidly) makes his bilateral spasticity — a condition usually associated with cerebral palsy — more difficult to handle.

As a 7-year-old, Ian had to be lowered into the pool from a walker just so he could use a kick board. That came after surgery at the Rubin Institute, part of the International Center for Limb Lengthening at Sinai Hospital.

Later, at the Towson YMCA, Ian started to compete in a serious way.

He's fortunate to be so high functioning, despite dealing with a condition that surfaced 18 months after his birth atSt. Joseph Medical Centerin Towson

Dawn says that Ian "was only grazed by that bullet" that left his calf and hamstring muscles so taut that he naturally tends to walk on his toes.

"We have had a lot of success in the past with serial casting and botox injections to maintain the muscle length we achieve through surgery," she added. "Ian's right leg shows that at best he is able to at least put that foot flat. However, he has had an enormous growth spurt and is very tight again from toe-to-hamstring on the left (leg), affecting his gait. He needs at least one more lengthening surgery. We hoped to do one his freshman year, but he was growing way too fast and we would lose whatever we gained in surgery with that kind of growth."

Neither has allowed obstacles to stand in their way of swimming at an elite level.

Ian still swims about 65,000 yards per week at rigorous NBAC practices; Becca logs close to 50,000 at LBA.

Becca and Ian will be following a path paved by the first Paralympic athletes, who have been involved in organized Olympic-style events since 1960. Twelve years earlier, World War II veterans with spinal cord injuries hatched the idea to compete in the same year as the first post-war Summer Olympics — also in London.

From that modest start, the Paralympics have increased dramatically in participation and interest. The high point came in Beijing four years ago where nearly 4,000 athletes with varying degrees of disabilities from 146 countries participated while using the same venues as their able-bodied counterparts.

"I am most excited about representing the United States and helping to spread the Paralympic movement," said Ian, who will be facing international competition for the first time.

Conversely, competing abroad is nothing new for Becca, who won a bronze medal as the youngest member of the 2009 U.S. Deaflympic team in Taipei, Taiwan and added four golds while setting another meet record last summer in the World Deaf Swimming Championships in Coimbra, Portugal.

With those experiences behind her, the only deaf swimmer on the U. S. Paralympic squad is ready for the what lies ahead.

"I will know what to expect in an international competition and I won't be overwhelmed with everything being all new to me as it did in Taiwan '09," Becca said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
Comments
Loading