How an Autistic Child fell in Love with Swim and It Saved her Life
MVP: Ruby Stevens

By: Abby Murphy

 

 
I had the opportunity to interview our MVP Ruby Stevens through her mother Sara Stevens. Ruby is a young para synchro-swimmer and global advocate seeking to raise awareness for others in her sport of synchronized swimming. She is an amazing and inspiring young athlete from Canada. She advocates and shows the world what athletes with disabilities can do through her Facebook page Ruby’s Paralympic Journey. Ruby’s story is told here through her mother’s words.
 

At age 2, before she even knew how to swim, Ruby fell in love with it.
“When Ruby was just 2 years old, a neighbor, who was a synchro swimmer and coach asked if she could take Ruby to the pool and to synchro practice. It turned into a regular thing. Ruby, who couldn’t even swim at the time, loved it. She became the youngest member of the Variety Village Synchro Club.”

At age 5, Ruby began competing, but not without struggles.
“At age, 5 Ruby started competing and swam main stream for about 2 years. However, it became really evident that despite her strong figures, she could not stay in pattern and on count with the rest of the team. Since emotions and feelings are already foreign to her, making ‘pretend’ faces are even harder. Remembering the sequence of the routines, swimming in time to the music, smiling or trying to be dramatic, and making a connection with the audience or judges all at the same time, is like a juggling act with 12 balls for someone like Ruby. The coach suggested that we move her to Athletes with Disability Stream, or AWD. It was hard for her, she wanted to stay with the kids she knew on the team, swim with a team. In AWD they only swim solos. She, once again, felt she was not good enough.”
 

Training with autism is a little different than it is for the mainstream athlete.
“Everyone with autism is unique, but for Ruby autism comes with: anxiety, sensory processing issues, social miscommunication problems, working memory deficits, attention and distractibility issues co-ordination, and mind-body connection problems. Having supportive coaches and teammates has been her key to success.

In synchro, learning a new routine means taking it figure by figure and move by move for several weeks before moving onto the next step. Then, at each practice going over and over it again from the beginning to refresh each time. Even after a full routine has been learned she has to practice and practice at home and at the pool. Otherwise, the information gets lost without constant repetition.

Speed swimming is a little different because there are not so many components to remember. However, like synchro, the pool deck is always loud and crowded. For someone like Ruby, this raises the anxiety and causes her brain to miss fire. She often wears noise cancelling headphones so she doesn’t have a panic attack or meltdown or even have to leave the meet entirely. Her body and mind are in constant overdrive and this is exhausting.”
 

Time marched on and life for Ruby was rough in and out of the pool.
“Her emotional, physical, and mental health were very unstable. At 10 years of age Ruby had a nervous breakdown, causing a major setback. Her life fell apart and she was unable to function. She was not able to attend school, swim, or do any of the activities that a young person enjoys. She was home schooled for a year and rarely left the house.

During her rough time, the one thing she ever wanted was to go to pool. That was her one safe place. The water always made her feel strong, capable, confident, and safe. I finally gave in and reluctantly let her go for short periods. It was the best medicine for her. She slowly started to get her strength, confidence, and spirit back. It took a long time for her to fully recover, but her love of swimming and her passion for athletes with disabilities has literally saved Ruby’s life.”
 

Ruby continues accomplishing goals and inspiring all.
“Four years later Ruby is not only thriving but has won a national championship title in AWD synchro, traveled to Taiwan and Brazil to advocate and raise awareness for herself and other AWD athletes. Now she has started to venture onto another path. Ruby has begun down the road to a national level speed swimmer…just because it looked like fun and because she had a little time on her hands.



 

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