Swimming in New Opportunities

The Jersey Hammerheads Swim Team is not your average swim team; all of the swimmers on this team have one thing in common that unites them but makes them ultimately completely different: they are all autistic. Michael and Rosa McQuay, who have an autistic son, started the Jersey Hammerheads. These parents saw so much more potential in him than what was being given to him through school, and knew that other parents of autistic children must be feeling the same way. Although these children are autistic, they can find ways to succeed on other levels and become dedicated, skilled, and motivated through other mediums. One of these perfect opportunities happens to be a swim team. 

The Jersey Hammerheads now has a total of seventeen swimmers, all of which have worked to learn how to swim and happily join a team where they can bond with other teammates on a much more personal level. In school, these children are often seen as “different”, but at practice and in the pool, they are one and the same all working to achieve the same goals: to succeed at national and international levels. Michael McQuay speaks of how they have already had swimmers compete in the Special Olympic Trials and win Special Olympic medals; a huge feat and success for these kids who deserve to be praised more often for their larger-than-life accomplishments. No longer do these kids have to feel ostracized and held back; they have each other as a team and are competing for gold medals like any other swimming enthusiast.

The video article highlights one swimmer in particular named Robert. Robert is in the eleventh grade, but he is at a fourth grade comprehension level. His mother, Rosa, describes her frustration and agony with Robert’s schooling because she feels like it is difficult to adequately prepare someone with autism for a real world job. She wants to see him do something more than restocking shelves at a Walmart, and she knows that he is capable of doing so. Robert is an inspiration and a motivator for the whole team; he has taken over the role of “captain” for the swim team and takes that responsibility seriously. He loves to have team meetings and pep talks to inspire the other swimmers that they can win gold medals too! Robert now talks of becoming a swim coach or instructor when he grows older, which would prove to be a great fit for him and a fun and successful career.

One of the sweetest moments is when Robert is showing off his new letterman jacket that he has acquired for one of his three swim teams. He proudly wears the jacket that represents the typical popular jock, but Robert defies all those stereotypes with his jacket, and he should be proud to represent such an accomplished group of people. The Jersey Hammerheads have opened up doors and opportunities for people who do not have to be smart in the classroom to be successful. Though a large part of our society is based on schooling, there are still plenty of activities and careers that are hands-on and active, and this is the kind of stimulating environment that some students, like these autistic children, need.

Click here to watch the full video of Robert's story featured in the New York Times article on the Jersey Hammerheads. 


--Jessalyn Kieta

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