This weekend is the 2018 Cincinnati Para-Swimming Open, so I am re-running an op-ed my Dad wrote about the meet for the Cincinnati Enquirer in 2015. Starting this year, the meet has been renamed the Bill Keating, Jr. Memorial Cincinnati Para-Swimming Open to recognize his leadership in growing the event since 2010.
This year’s meet is the largest non‑championship meet in North America. It is a two-day swim competition held this Saturday and Sunday, May 12-13, at the University of Cincinnati Keating Aquatic Center. The sessions run from 9 a.m. – 12 noon on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. on Saturday evening.
Disabled Does Not Mean Unable
Bill Keating, Jr.
Cincinnati Enquirer – May 7, 2015
Six years ago my dad and I were invited to attend a swim meet unlike any other. Midway through a discussion with a coach, he whistled and then continued talking with me. About 40 seconds later, he whistled again and then continued our conversation without hesitation. As this sequence continued I finally asked why he was whistling. He said that his blind swimmer was warming up, and he whistles when she is three feet from the wall so she knows when to turn.
As the meet started, I saw a swimmer in a wheelchair leading a blind swimmer to the starting blocks. I saw another swimmer in a wheelchair pulling an empty wheelchair behind him because his friend was swimming a one‑lap race and needed the wheelchair at the other end of the pool.
We were at the Cincinnati Para‑Swimming Open, which included Paralympians, Para American and World record holders, National team members and many Paralympic hopefuls. Among the swimmers was Erin Popovich, a three-time Paralympian who had won more gold medals at the Paralympics Games than Michael Phelps had won at the Olympic Games.
The following year, I brought 16 laundry baskets and we created the Basket Brigade. We then recruited high school swimmers to move the wheelchairs, prosthetics and warm-ups from one end of the pool to the other. What we did not expect was the impact the meet had on these high school volunteers. They realized that “disabled” did not mean “unable,” as some of these disabled swimmers swam faster than them.
The following year, I met Bri, a 12-year-old girl. I noticed she was the center of attention with all the coaches, swimmers and officials. When I spoke to her father he was so overcome with emotion he could not speak for a couple of minutes. He then explained that when Bri was born, they assumed she would be bedridden the rest of her life. He went on to say that competing in disability meets transformed their perceptions and realization of what Bri could do. Bri was born with no legs, one arm with only three fingers. Bri’s positive attitude about life was inspiring to everyone around her, and she completely changed her family’s vision of her future. That summer, Bri represented the United States at the Paralympic World Championships.
Curtis Lovejoy is a long-time participant at the Cincinnati meet, and is a four-time Paralympian in both swimming and fencing. Wheelchair bound from a car accident early in his adult life, he is now in his 50s and a role model athlete. He told me that you cannot let your disabilities and other limitations define you, that you define your disabilities. This, too, is what Bri not only taught us, but also showed us when she swam.
How many other children, veterans and their families would benefit from seeing their opportunities, not limitations, through participation in adaptive sports?
And how many able‑bodied people would gain a new level of respect for athletes like Bri and Curtis who remind us that “disabled” does not mean “unable.”