Shaler Adaptive Aquatics program been floating along for 35 years | TribLIVE
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Shaler Adaptive Aquatics program been floating along for 35 years

| Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018, 1:33 a.m.
Cal Stayduhar of Shaler enjoys a day of swimming with volunteer Jodie Eskendri of Shaler.

People with mental or physical disabilities gain more than swimming skills through Shaler’s Adaptive Aquatics for Health program.

“Swimming is a big part of it but socializing is a big part, too. The goal is to make a friend,” said Julie McDermott, 33, who has led Adaptive Aquatics with her husband, Jim, 34, since 2009.

The Shaler Area teachers acquired the 35-year-old program from Mary Lou Hepner.

Swimmers of all abilities meet for the 10-week sessions at Crawford Pool in Kiwanis Park in the summer and Shaler Area Elementary School’s indoor pool during the fall and spring.

Sessions start with group stretches, then participants pair off with the same volunteers each week for individualized instruction ranging from learning how to go underwater to swimming laps.

Working with consistent volunteers is another way swimmers attain friendships and social skills, according to Jill McDermott.

“Jess — the volunteer — and him, they got a working bond that will last forever,” Charles Suchma, of Millvale, said regarding his 12-year-old son Dalton’s relationship with his instructor. Dalton, who has autism, has attended the sessions for almost eight years.

“He’s worked his way from the shallow end up to deep the end. Myself, I couldn’t teach him how to do that, and I’m thankful for the people that can,” Suchma said.

Thirteen-year-old Abby Shipe, of Cranberry, has graduated from swimming as a participant to volunteer. She now instructs Elijah Wolovich, 7, of Millvale, on “staying focused, keeping him afloat in the water and not running away.”

Shipe, who has mild cerebral palsy, said the program allows her to “just forget all of the hardships of the week, even though it’s summer … just to relax.”

David Eskendri’s 6-year-old son, Talis, who has autism, couldn’t learn from traditional swim programs.

Through his Adaptive Aquatics participation, Eskendri said, Talis has “benefited from learning water safety and socializing with other kids.”

“It has been really beneficial to him. We are so lucky to be in this program,” the Shaler resident said.

Reserve resident Kim Pavicic, whose son, Richard, 23, has cerebral palsy, said the class provides a much-needed opportunity for people with disabilities to interact. Outside of the pool, the McDermotts organize a group picnic, holiday party and fall hayride.

“It’s a chance for them (people with disabilities) to feel like they’re normal … This is a chance for them to be themselves, to be happy,” Pavicic said.

At the end of their summer sessions, most of the swimmers find joy by zipping down the newly installed Crawford Pool slide.

“The slide is the highlight of the swim,” Pavicic said.

The volunteer-based program currently has a waiting list. Helpers, ages 14 and up, are always needed.

Jim McDermott, said the program wouldn’t be possible without support from the following: Shaler Township, Shaler Area School District, The Glenshaw Century Club Inc., Kiwanis Club of Glenshaw, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9199 and The American Legion Shaler Post 785.

The McDermotts, of Glenshaw, received the 2017-18 Jefferson Award for their Adaptive Aquatics work.

The award, founded in 1972 by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Sen. Robert Taft Jr. and Sam Beard, honors individuals for their contributions through public and community service.

For volunteer or session information, contact: .

Erica Cebzanov is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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