Local swimmer Andres Hernandez, 24, was diagnosed with Down syndrome while still in his mother’s womb, but that hasn’t stopped him from being a competitive swimmer.
This month, he joined six swimmers from Florida at the 7th Down Syndrome International Swimming Organization (DSISO) World Championship & International Competition in Morelia, Mexico.
The swim competitions are similar to the Olympics, but geared towards individuals with Down syndrome. Just like other competitions, swimmers must meet certain times to qualify for the competition. The scoring process is also similar to the Olympics.
Over 20 countries participate in the DSISO competitions, which take place every two years. Andres participated in the previous competition in Italy in 2012.
“It’s a challenge, but it’s amazing. When you go to these competitions you feel like you’re in heaven. Everybody is friendly and easy going,” said his father Ignacio Hernandez, a Whites Sands Missile Range employee. “They’re not competing against each other.”
Andres is the only swimmer from Texas on the team. His father would like for swimmers from other states to become more involved in the competitions. He encourages parents to become involved.
“It’s hard because you don’t want to bring a child to suffer. Once you have a child like Andres you feel like you have to be his voice to encourage people around him to be his friend and like him,” Ignacio said. “As parents of a child with Down syndrome, let’s give them an opportunity to live a happy life, like all kids.”
Andres began swimming at the age of four. He has become an excellent swimmer and is a member of the USA Down Syndrome Swim Team.
His father has seen the ways his son has benefited from swimming.
“(The swim team is) something very good they have for (individuals with Down syndrome). It gives them an opportunity to be somebody,” Ignacio said.
According to Ignacio, his son has a speech impediment and struggles to communicate with others.
“For us parents it’s frustrating to see that they are trying to make friends and communicate with the world and the world is not listening,” Ignacio said.
He said swimming has not only helped Andres make friends but also keeps him healthy.
According to Ignacio, his son has dodged health problems, like obesity, that individuals with Down syndrome may encounter. He was also born with health issues. Doctors told his parents he would need open heart surgery at the age of two.
“He didn’t need the surgery,” Ignacio said. “Swimming keeps his heart in good condition. We feel very at ease because he’s always working out.”
Andres loves music and likes to dance. He is also very dedicated to his swimming. He has a personal trainer and practices up to three hours daily. He has won countless medals in several competitions including the Special Olympics.
For more information about the USA Swim Team visit www.ds-teamusa.com or www.dsiso.org.