Eighteen years ago, the YMCA Special Needs Aquatic Program (SNAP) was developed by one of the Ys former SPY coaches whose daughter has Down Syndrome. It was designed to help individuals with special needs by boosting physical activity, developing self-confidence and teaching a lifesaving skill. In addition, it helps with balance, coordination and the development of motor skills. It has incorporated private swim lessons and is home to our competitive swim team, The Snapping Turtles. The purpose of the Snapping Turtles is to prepare the athletes to compete in Special Olympics. It provides an environment for the athletes to work as a team and to make lasting friendships. The SNAP program and Snapping Turtles are subsidized by the Strong Kids scholarship fund.
Jacob Seelbach, 19, has been swimming with SNAP for more than thirteen years. He started with group lessons, and quickly discovered the benefits of private SNAP swim lessons. Jacob’s mother, Kathy Seelbach says, “The exercise is a great perk of this program, but it is the socialization and feeling of belonging to a group that are the real benefits Jacob realizes. He has really come a long way.” Rath Mellinger, Snapping Turtles swim coach, says, “Jacob is a wonderful teammate. He is always encouraging others and cheering them on to swim faster.”
A hard worker and fierce competitor, Jacob has competed in Special Olympics for swimming every year since he was in the fourth grade. Each of those years he received a gold medal. He says the breaststroke and freestyle are his best strokes. He loves the interaction with his teammates, but recognizes other benefits swimming gives him. Jacob said, “The water helps me cool down my energy. It is soothing and relaxes me.” Jacob also competes in other Special Olympic sports. He has participated in basketball, golf, football and, just recently, started bowling with the YMCA Saturday Striker bowling program. His outgoing personality and inclusiveness make everyone feel welcomed. It comes as no surprise he has been asked to be a Special Olympics global messenger.
We are lucky and proud to have this young man associated with our SNAP program. He makes it look so easy. He has shown that if you work hard, stay focused and have a goal, anything is possible.