Story #4 – “Justin”

In the Spring of 2000, I was given the opportunity to participate in an adapted Physical Education Swim class. Two days a week, an Elementary class of students with Down syndrome would come to the University’s pool for swimming lessons. I was a Special Education major and at this point in my schooling had very little hands on experience. I was given the privilege of working with Justin. Justin was a five-year-old boy who had Down syndrome. He was as cute as could be, with dirty blond hair and light blue eyes. His verbal communication was limited but it was not difficult to figure out what he wanted to tell you. His facial expressions presented such emotion that just by looking at him you could determine his mood and even his thoughts.

I remember our first time meeting. Justin was hesitant and reserved.  Although he enjoyed the water, there were times that he became fearful. It was my responsibility to assure Justin and make him feel safe. However, for me the whole idea of being responsible for a student with special needs in a pool was even more terrifying.  This was until I discovered Justin’s smile. During the moments when both of us were filled with fear, all Justin needed to do was smile. The expression on his face provided me with so much more than the assurance that he was happy and he trusted me.  I discovered and learned more than I could imagine working with him. It was evident that these sessions were not just an opportunity for Justin to learn to swim but the opportunity for the instructors, for me, to feel the promise, joyfulness, and energy he shared with all those around him.

~ Lora, Justin’s swim instructor and friend

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