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Baptist college swim coach helps youngster battle cerebral palsy

WILLIAMSBURG, Ky. (BP)–Kevin Blair, born almost four months premature, weighed just over two pounds and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Doctors told his family the outlook was grim, explaining that cerebral palsy and other medical problems likely would leave him in a vegetative state.

Four years later, however, Kevin has made significant progress in his mental and physical development. He’s even been named an honorary member of the Cumberland College swim team.

Part of Kevin’s breakthrough came earlier this year when Cumberland swimming coach Lance Huber agreed to provide the youngster swimming lessons. Through teamwork and determination, the two are conquering obstacles that previously seemed impossible.

Kevin’s grandparents, Jim and Joyce Blair, who approached Huber about the swimming lessons, have raised Kevin for most of his life. As his adoptive parents, they have seen Kevin through 31 operations, including 18 brain surgeries. They took the time to teach him to do things doctors said were impossible, such as how to roll, crawl and speak.

The Blairs also enlisted the help of Wanda Freeman, a speech pathologist, and Lloyd Zehr, an occupational therapist, to help him battle the effects of cerebral palsy.

Freeman currently is teaching him how to read. “He would cry and squirm when we first had our lessons together, but now he loves to read and has some favorites that he likes to read with me,” she said.

Zehr also has witnessed some significant strides. “I am trying to teach him how to become more independent,” he explained. Zehr works with Kevin’s coordination and his fine motor skills so he can do things like get in and out of chairs by himself and improve his eye-hand coordination.

As Kevin’s therapy progressed, the Blairs decided to try something new to enhance the efforts of his physical therapists. They approached Huber about giving Kevin swimming lessons as part of his physical therapy.

Blair said they chose Cumberland, affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention, because of its Christian background. “It is a Christian college and that is something that was very important to us,” Blair noted.

Coach Huber gave Kevin his first swimming lesson in April. Kevin had never been in a swimming pool so the experience was scary for him and he returned to a spastic, stiffened state common among those with cerebral palsy. This lasted only moments, however, as the two began to develop a trusting bond.

“With Kevin, trust is a huge deal and I don’t think he would have come as far as he has without the trust that we have together,” Huber said. He started by teaching Kevin to blow bubbles and float, eventually working up to splashing and kicking. Kevin is now slowly swimming on his own for several feet.

Huber attributes much of Kevin’s accomplishments to his attention span, determination and the interaction the two have during the lessons.

“It is overwhelming to see him come from clinging to my shoulder to, two weeks later, voluntarily putting his head underwater and having fun,” Huber said. “He tries so hard and he has an attention span that is unbelievable.”

For Kevin’s part, he describes his new friend as “my Coach Huber.”

Blair said the accomplishments the two have made also can be attributed to the attitude Huber had from the very beginning about working with Kevin. “He didn’t talk about all of the things he could do; he talked about the things that they could do together.”

Kevin has touched the lives of many people during his lessons at the Cumberland College pool. Several members of the college swim team have had the opportunity to interact with Kevin and befriend him.

“It says something about the coach and the team when they are able to work with Kevin in such a special way and develop such a special bond,” Blair noted. “It means a lot to him.”

Huber said he also has benefited from working with Kevin. “For me, to see his grandmother and grandfather on deck, overwhelmed by what Kevin can do, it makes me feel like I’m doing my job,” he said. “Even when he makes a accomplishment that only I can recognize, that makes me feel great too, because I know that something will come from that. Even if it’s only a little bit, I know that the next day, he is going to be able to do even more.”

Blair described the duo’s interaction and impact as a miracle. “When we came up to Cumberland for him to learn to swim, it was a godsend; it was just an answer to my prayers,” he said. “Every child has a window of opportunity to learn and excel. It is just a matter of opening that window and teaching them. Coach Huber has found that window.”

As an honorary member of the college’s swim team, Kevin will be recognized for his accomplishments during the school’s first home swim meet in October. He also is featured on the team’s Internet page at ccswimming.tripod.com.
Smith is assistant director of public information at Cumberland College.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.sbcbaptistpress.org. Photo title: HONORARY SWIM TEAM MEMBER.

    About the Author

  • Brenna B. Smith