NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The pandemic has been hard for kids from all walks of life, but especially those with special needs. One of the few programs still finding a way to operate is the Nashville Dolphins, a program that teaches children and adults with special needs how to swim.
Grant Marshall is a longtime participant in the Dolphins. The 18-year-old senior at Hillsboro High School giggled with excitement all through his early laps during swim practice.
His mother, Laura Marshall, says she's so grateful a program like this exists for her son. "He loves being in the water, he loves his coaches and all the volunteers at the Dolphins," said Laura. "He’s a... nonverbal autistic so he’s sort of limited in what he can do."
But when it comes to swimming, Grant has really found his lane.
Brenda Vroon is part coach, part executive director of the Nashville Dolphins. "We are the only program like this in the country. The thing that really makes us unique is we don’t charge our participants," said Vroon.
That provision isn't just out of generosity. For a lot of the Dolphins' parents, it's keeping them above water. "Raising a child with special needs is extremely expensive. When we first heard the diagnosis for Grant, we were told it would cost over a million dollars to raise a child with autism," said Marshall.
Beginning swimmers, called the Pre-Dolphins and Junior Dolphins, get more hands-on attention. Vroon says their youngest swimmer is just 3 years old; their oldest is in their 50s. "Once you’re a dolphin, you’re always a dolphin. So there’s no age out policy," she said.
The speed demons practicing on Saturday are on the Dolphins' competitive swim team. In normal years, they'd be training for the Special Olympics. "We haven’t competed this year because of COVID but hopefully we can get back to competition soon," said Will McMillan, one of the swimmers.
But even without swim meets to prepare for, these kids are still lapping it up. "It’s fun, he just has fun," said Marshall.
Because when they're in this pool, people stop and stare, just out of pure admiration. "No one judges him, they just all get along, they all enjoy being around each other," said Marshall.
It takes more than 150 volunteers to run the various swimming programs provided by the Nashville Dolphins. If you'd like to learn how to volunteer, or donate money, go to www.NashvilleDolphins.org.