Letter to the Editor

Being accepted fulfills a basic human need

Friday, December 21, 2012

Dear Editor:

"Earlier this year a young woman came to my room and expressed interest in our girls' swim team. She was very respectful, eager, and polite. She took down the dates I offered and started to leave, hesitated, and came back to my desk. She told me that she lived at Heartland West and waited for my reaction. Honestly, I wasn't aware of any reason the aspiring swimmer couldn't be on our team. I told her as much, and sent her on her way with the list of important dates and honestly didn't think much more about the conversation.

A few weeks later at our pre-season meeting, the student was at the meeting. She wasn't sitting with a group of girls giggling like the rest of the potential swimmers, but alone, leaning forward absorbing each and every single thing I said. After the meeting she rushed up to me and rattled off several details about her experience as a swimmer. We discussed whom she would travel to and from practice with and to school as well.

We (with the help of an amazing therapist: Jill) were able to set up a car-buddy for Marissa and all seemed to be going well. Sure, Marissa missed afternoon practices for therapy sessions, and it was extra work dealing with the Missouri State High School Activities Association. Marissa finally acquired enough practices to compete in one meet. This was the Carthage Pentathlon, a grueling 5-event meet!

Marissa had been battling demons in the water -- she would sometimes hyperventilate during the 100 butterfly, a few times my swimmers would volunteer to swim the stroke with her in practice -- just for support. Two days prior to her first NHS swim meet, Marissa was able to finish the 100 fly. This was a HUGE accomplishment for someone dealing with handling one's fears, frustrations and disappointments.

At the meet, Marissa wasn't able to finish that one event, however, she realized her limits, gracefully swam to the edge, and exited the pool with such dignity, composure and grace. I was proud.

We had a going away/Christmas party for Marissa yesterday at practice. We took a team picture, opened gifts, showered this fellow swimmer with love and affection.

Today, her mother brought Marissa to early morning practice. Marissa's mother stepped onto the deck and burst into tears. She couldn't believe we had allowed her daughter to be a part of our team. She couldn't believe how the girls accepted her daughter. She couldn't thank me enough for accepting her daughter -- for not judging her.

She shared with me that Marissa had struggled to make friends in the past -- that she only had one or two. When my team encircled their teammate and gave her a huge group hug and presented her with a team picture along with a signed cap, I saw what I had failed to notice prior to that moment -- she needed us, and we all benefited from her being on our team.

Marissa may have a troubled past. Marissa may not have been able to make it to every practice. Marissa may not have been eligible for every meet. But, Marissa has changed my life. She has been through more than most people my age. She harnessed her energy and applied it to something worthwhile. It would have been easy for me to shy away from a swimmer with a questionable past, thank goodness for her sake and mine that I did not.

Just to know that I made such a difference in one little girl's life has been my finest moment in education. "

Amyl Bishop,

NHS girls' swim coach