Ryan Hemann, an OHS Junior, is no stranger to persistence.

From the moment he was born, Ryan has been beating the odds. Ryan, now a happy, thriving teen, does everything a normal teen does, just with a little help.

Ryan is diagnosed with spina bifida, a condition which prevents the spinal cord from forming correctly during development, which keeps him wheelchair bound.

Ryan has no movement from the chest down, elevating his need for upper body and arm strength.

Lon Lawler, a Physical Education instructor at OHS, recognized the need for an adapted course for Ryan, so he started working with him on some weight training and facilitating cardio exercises.

Then came the conversation with the aquatic center coordinator from the Cedar River Complex, Mark Miller.

Miller had read articles on the effects of water exposure to people with spina bifida, and proposed the idea of swim lessons for Ryan.

A team of staff from the CRC along with OHS teachers have partnered to provide Ryan with a new range of fitness exposure than he has received in the past.

When asked how swimming has impacted him, Ryan says, “I like swimming because it allows me to do something I’m not able to without the water. I’m free to move in all directions by myself. I could never move like that in my chair.”

This sort of response from a student is exactly what Miller, CRC aquatic coordinator, says he enjoys about the water.

"I know how liberating the water can be. If I see someone that would benefit from it, I try to facilitate, regardless of disability.” Miller, with 26 years of swim lesson experience, says he treats Ryan’s lessons just like any other student.

He works with Ryan on things like how to push and pull in the water, safety activities, flipping over, moving in the water, rhythmic breathing, and balance.

“It’s just like any other swim lesson, but his comfort in the water is way above what I’ve seen. It’s just natural,” says Miller.

Tracie Kofoot, an instructional strategist at OHS and Ryan’s teacher, has had Ryan as a student for three years now and has helped facilitate Ryan’s swimming.

Kofoot understands the need for Ryan to be healthy and provides him with the means to attend his swimming lessons.

When asked if she has seen any change in Ryan, Kofoot said, “He has been so excited. The first time I saw him in the water, I wanted to cry. He looked so happy, so free.”

OHS is excited about the partnership with the CRC and hopes to keep this option open for any students who may benefit from it in the future.

When asked about the CRC partnership, Lawler said, “If there were any wheelchair bound students in the future, we now have a plan in place and we can keep building on this experience.

"This is project-based learning at its best, and a student gets to experience something never before possible for them. That’s a pretty cool thing.”

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