CINCINNATI - With her goggles and yellow swim cap fitted snuggly to her head, her hair tucked inside, Abby Bauleke of Savage, Minn., sat waiting like most athletes her age… nervous and excited.
While the 10-year-old has been swimming for about two and a half years, this was her first time competing at a swim meet like this one.
With the summer Olympics just a few months away, some athletes are still trying to qualify for the U.S. Team — but not for the Olympics you might be thinking of.
UC’s Keating Aquatic Center was home to about 170 Paralympic hopefuls this weekend.
Hosted by The Greater Toledo Aquatic Club, the swim meet welcomed 15 countries to compete for a chance at the Paralympics, which are held two weeks after the Olympic Games — both are held in London.
The competition encompassed skill sets by both athletes with visual impairment as well as physical disabilities, including missing limbs and wheelchair-bound athletes like Bauleke.
When she was 4, she was diagnosed with Leukemia. During her chemotherapy she was diagnosed with giambre syndrome — a disease that affected her legs, rendering them very weak, forcing her into a wheelchair. But not forcing the young girl, who has been in remission for about six years, out of the place she loves to be the most -- the pool.
"Usually I can't do things in school and all that, but then swimming, I can do a lot more things than I can without of swimming… it's like, I feel more [like I] fit in, in swimming," said the soft-spoken girl sitting in her bathing suit in her wheelchair, waiting for her next 50-meter lap.
It was time. She slid slowly out of her wheelchair onto the wet tile, then hoisted herself up onto the platform. She swung her arms wildly in front of her and to the back, stretching before using them as her only means of propelling once she hits the water.
The buzzer sounded. She scooted and leapt into her lane in the pool, gliding across the crystal-clear blue water with ease. Her arms rapidly shot out of the water pushing her to the other side, completing her 50-meter freestyle.
Bauleke wasn’t competing for a spot on the Paralympic Team, however, Sunday was a victory in more ways than one for Bauleke, who won 2nd place in the 50-meter backstroke. But mostly, it was a victorious day because she beat a 40-year-old swimmer in the pool on Sunday, she said laughing.
She also swam the 50-meter butterfly.
All athletes who competed Saturday and Sunday are considered "elite-level" athletes. Their ages ranged from 8 to 60.
The Paralympics will be held, Aug. 29 through Sept. 9.
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