Ignacio Hernandez, a White Sands Missile Range computer engineer is the proud father of a highly decorated swimmer within the Down syndrome community.
Andres Hernandez, 25, has been swimming since he was four years old and began swimming competitively at the age of 11.
In July2016, Andres competed in the Down Syndrome International Swimming Organization Trisome Games of 2016 in Firenze, Italy.
“He trains hard and deserves his success,” said Geoff Smedley, the president of the Sports Union for Athletes with Down syndrome.
This was Andres’ eighth swimming championship competition and third time competing in the Trisome Games. He was awarded one gold medal in the 100 meter freestyle and three silver medals in the 50 and 100 meter butterfly and 50 meter freestyle.
Ignacio said the ultimate dream is to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. He said after several attempts spearheaded by the DSISO to have the Paralympics recognize Down syndrome as a special need have resulted in unanswered messages and phone calls. Events like the Trisome Games are meant to mimic the Paralympics but one glaring difference is the cost to attend the games. Olympic competitors are usually sponsored and the Trisome Games come out of the family’s pocket.
“I want for him to be able to succeed and show the world that they not only have special needs but they have special abilities,” Ignacio said. “We know Andres can do this, he can be a swimmer representing the U.S. If he were to compete, people with Down syndrome can benefit by seeing the possibility of being able to do sports in such a way.”
Smedley said the International Paralympic Committee argues that athletes with Down syndrome can already take part in the Paralympics under the classification of intellectual disability. However, he said it would result in an unfair competition because athletes with Down syndrome also have physical impairments that other athletes with intellectual disabilities do not have. The IPC said they do not refute the claim, however the rules do not allow for classification of dual disability.
“The movement for athletes with Down syndrome has not stood still,” Smedley said. “The inclusion of athletes with Down syndrome into the Paralympic family is not simply a movement initiated by SU-DS, but more significantly, it is the IPC who should now be accepting the irresponsibility and putting an end to what is blatant discrimination.”
Currently, SU-DS has more than 800 athletes in 44 countries actively involved in eight sports and many championships at national, regional and world levels.
Prior to becoming one of the 800 international athletes with Down syndrome, Andres also competed in gymnastics in the Special Olympics. He was also part of two high school’s swim teams, the high school band, ballet, folklorico and he loves Zumba. Ignacio said he has won so many gold medals that it is difficult for him to keep track of them.
“His special abilities are way beyond his special needs,” Ignacio said.
Though Andres is limited in his speech, it is clear that his greatest passion is singing, dancing and getting on television. Ignacio said he constantly expresses a desire to be famous. Earlier this year Andres led a Zumba class at a packed El Paso, Texas, nightclub during a fundraiser to raise awareness for Down syndrome.
“He’s not shy,” Ignacio said of Andres.
When Ignacio’s wife was three months pregnant, the doctor advised them that their son would be born with Down syndrome and recommended an abortion because of the high risk of heart problems and leukemia Andres could face. Ignacio said he and his wife were torn and were unsure if they should continue with the pregnancy because they felt Andres would suffer, but Ignacio said they were able to make the right decision with the help of their parish. Currently, Andres has a clean bill of health, which his cardiologist attributes to his high physical ability.
“Andres has been a joy in our family,” Ignacio said. “When you initially see his life you think he’s not going to be able to do anything and he was able to reach his maximum potential in swimming. I’ve heard people say Andres is a role mode within the Down syndrome community, especially for children with Down syndrome.”
Ignacio said he and his wife were determined to find an outlet for their son at an early age because he was having such a hard time with his speech and with reading. He said a lot of people questioned why they would put their son in so many sports if he was lagging developmentally. He hopes in the future, schools should work on abilities of special needs children rather than school criteria.
“His communication limitation doesn’t allow him to express how excited he is but we see him beaming in the competitions,” Ignacio said. “We feel we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”
Ignacio said he is amazed by his son’s perseverance, he trains for two to three hours a day for competitions. Ignacio and his wife also have an older son and a daughter, his son is studying to become a doctor and his daughter is studying speech pathology, an interest she developed after living with her younger brother’s disability.
“Everybody in the family is very proud,” he said.
Ignacio hopes his son’s success will lead to a greater awareness of the talent that is out there for individuals like his son especially if he is able to compete in the Paralympics. Andres has competed nationally in Juarez, Chihuahua but Ignacio said it is difficult for him to find a training program geared towards people like his son with physical talent.
“People with Down syndrome have a lot of focus, this is a good outlet to work with them and get them to enjoy life,” Hernandez said. “If more people are interested and get involved, we may be able to have it grow. I hope one of these days more people will hear about it and think about it.”
If you would like more information about the Down Syndrome International Swimming Organization, contact Ignacio Hernandez at firstname.lastname@example.org.