Shelley Persinger: Swim Coach helps Special Olympians conquer fear of water and win gold medals

BROKEN ARROW, Okla. - Each week, Coach Shelley Persinger gathers her swimmers in the pool for a work out at the Boys and Girls Club of Broken Arrow. They go through warm up drills. They work on confidence building exercises. 

It’s all an effort to get the swimmer comfortable in the water.

Shelley calls out encouragement. 

“Use your hands. Come on! Victor, use your hands. Swim! Use your legs. That’s it!” 

As she watched her swimmers she said, “The most gratifying reward is to have someone come in who is wearing a life vest and clinging to your neck and clinging to the wall to finally be free of the wall, free of your neck and free of the flotation devices and independently swimming and enjoying it on their own.”

Shelley is Broken Arrow’s Special Olympics coach. 

“My father was a paraplegic so working with the handicapped kids and then the special needs kids and then into Down Syndrome and other needs, it just evolved.”

During the Oklahoma Special Olympics Winter Games she coached Sarah Parrack to a gold medal in the 25-meter freestyle. 

“Working with kids that most people would have written off at birth, to see them achieve something and to be so happy with just finishing what they start is very, very rewarding.”

By coaching those children, Shelley is making a difference in the lives of children who might not otherwise get a chance to conquer their fear of water or go for the gold.

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