Vinton-Shellsburg's Zach Kramer makes huge splash in season debut Zach Kramer, a Viking freshman with Down syndrome, made his season debut Tuesday, swimming the opening leg of the160 freestyle relay in the team’s senior night dual against Williamsburg. Vinton-Shellsburg's Zach Kramer makes huge splash in season debut
Zach Kramer, a Vinton-Shellsburg freshman with Down syndrome, made his season debut Tuesday, swimming the opening leg of the 160 freestyle relay.(Photo: Dargan Southard/ Iowa City- Press Citizen)
VINTON, Ia. — There isn’t much room surrounding the Iowa Braille School pool; just a few feet on each side accompanied by a handful of bench space. It’s limited capacity — no sprawling bleachers, no additional seating for Vinton-Shellsburg’s swimming duals.
It didn’t matter Tuesday. The place was jam-packed, a boisterous standing-room only crowd that oozed intensity and jubilation. They came in droves to watch a mixture of diligence, dedication and perseverance culminate in the water.
Zach Kramer, a Viking freshman with Down syndrome, made his season debut Tuesday, swimming the opening leg of the 160-yard freestyle relay in the team’s senior night dual against Williamsburg. Kramer went down and back with little trouble, a byproduct of his season-long determination in learning how to swim.
When Kramer finished, the crowd erupted.
“It was electric,” Vinton-Shellsburg swimming coach Rob Levis said. “It was just so cool. I’ve never seen this many people in here. It was standing-room only — all the benches were full. There were people standing two- and three-deep all the way around the sides of the pool.
This season’s swimming affection began on a whim. When Levis held an informal meeting in October welcoming anyone who wanted to join the swim team, Kramer was right there in attendance. Sure, the Vinton-Shellsburg freshman had spent ample time in the family’s miniature backyard pool and loved the water, but that paled in comparison to actual school competition.
First, one pretty big detail had to be sorted out.
“I said to Zach, ‘Do you know how to swim?’” Levis recalled. “He said, ‘Yeah, I know how to swim.’ Right after (the meeting), he came up to me and said, ‘What happens if you don’t know how to swim?’ So I said, ‘You know what, we can probably teach you how to swim. Can you swim at all?’ (Zach said), ‘Yeah, I can swim.’
“So I reached out to his dad, and his dad’s like, ‘No, he can’t swim.’”
Naturally, Zach’s father, Mike, had concerns. But given his son’s heavy interest, he didn’t mind going with a figure-it-out-as-we-go approach.
“I’m like, ‘I don’t know how he’s going to do this — but alright,’” Mike said with a laugh. “If this is something he really wants to do and he’s all excited about it, let’s go for it.”
On the first day, Zach was hesitant to test the water, deadpanning that he was afraid he was going to drown. But he warmed up, first beginning with a life jacket on and eventually letting his adventurous side take over.
Zach finally worked his way into the deep end. Then one day, he peered up at the starting blocks.
“He saw the kids going off them and decided he wanted to do it, too,” Levis said. “You could see him shaking up there. He was scared to do it. But all of sudden, he just goes, ‘Oh, what the heck,’ and just dove in and bellyflopped right into the water.
“So I talked to Mike and said, ‘You know, he likes it. He’s not too bad at it. I think what we ought to do is we’ll just work towards getting him into our third meet (of the year against Williamsburg).’”
Through constant repetition and dedicated assistance, Zach’s slowly improved his kick, stroke, breathing and ability to float. He swam his part for the meet numerous times in practice without trouble, and once Tuesday’s targeted date popped up on the schedule, all involved believed Zach was ready.
Levis admitted Zach was a bit nervous once he peaked at the crowd.
The preparation, though, had been done.
The performance was even better.
“That’ll be a moment I’ll never forget about,” Mike said. “I was excited for him going down and back, but at the same time, I’m thinking, ‘OK, watch your form. Make sure you’re moving your arms like you’re supposed to. Make sure you’re breathing — keep your head down.’
“But then to be here and listen to everybody cheer for him, I’m choking back tears the whole time. It’s a moment in life I’ll carry with me forever.”
And don’t be surprised if Tuesday’s performance is just the start.
When asked if he’ll continue to swim in the coming years, Zach was firm and emphatic.
“Yes!” he said.
Dargan Southard covers preps, recruiting, Iowa and UNI athletics for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, The Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.
Dargan Southard , firstname.lastname@example.org Published 8:38 p.m. CT Jan. 18, 2017 | Updated 5 hours ago