Sage Holmes swam in his first varsity meet Tuesday.

Coach Levis and dad Jeff give Sage Holmes some final pointers before his first varsity swim event.

“Let’s do this!”

With those three words, VSHS freshman swimmer Sage Holmes ended the pep talk he was getting from coach Rob Levis, and his parents, Jeff and Angie, and headed toward his teammates.

This conversation took place Tuesday at the IBSSS pool, where Sage became he second Special Olympian to participate in an event in a Vinton-Shellsburg/Center Point Urbana varsity swimming event.

Inspired by his friend, Zach Kramer, who continues to participate in varsity events, Sage told his parents he would like to join the swim team before the season began.

It was a year ago, January 2017, that Zach, after months of practice, competed in his first varsity meet. This year, Coach Rob Levis thinks Zach will compete in enough events to earn a varsity letter.

Sage joined Zach in a varsity relay on Tuesday, when VS/CPU hosted Grinnell.

“It was very exciting to see Sage have the opportunity to compete last night,” said Levis. “He has worked very hard and come so far.  So to see him be able to swim at home in front of his family and friends, and to see how excited they were for him, was really nice.  And to see the progress Zach has made since last year is pretty impressive as well. “

Coach Levis credits the non-swimmers involved in the VS-CPU program for the many hours they have spent helping Sage and Zach.

“Both Sage and Zach have benefitted from a lot of great work by our managers – Kaitlyn, Emily, Geordyn and Amanda.  And Zach’s skills have significantly improved because of his involvement with the Vinton Aquatic Club over the summer where his club coach, Pam, did a lot of great work with him.  He has been really dedicated coming in for public lap swim at 6AM several days a week.  He has worked so hard, its fantastic to see how much he has improved,” says the coach.

While Sage responded to his coach’s pep talk with “Let’s do this,” Zach has earned a reputation for another 3-word phrase — one he interrupted Levis with on Tuesday: “Trust me, Coach.”

While everyone hopes for a win against an opponent, the individual nature of swimming is ideal for many competitors, says Levis.

“This one of the things I love about the sport of swimming.  There is a place for everyone – people of all skills and abilities,” he says. “When you get in your lane, all that really matters is you, the water and the clock.  Certainly you want to beat the opponent; but you can’t control who the opponent is or what they do, you just control you.  How hard you worked in practice and how hard you are willing to push yourself in the race.  Some people are really fast and many others aren’t.  But there is a place for everyone and everyone can improve, and physically measure that improvement, if they want to work at it.”

Zach’s father, Mike, thanked Coach Levis and the rest of the VS/CPU team for all of their work with him.

“I think most importantly we have to thank Rob for his dedication and caring,” says Mike Kramer. “He truly cares about each student succeeding — not only in swimming but all aspects of life. Here is a coach who now has 2 students with special needs, two students that at one point couldn’t swim. Look at them now they can swim because of him and his dedication towards all students. I go to almost every practice and I see how Rob works with the whole team, I see how much time is also spent, and devoted to having two athletes succeed, whether it’s one-on-one time with Rob or team managers working with them.”

Zach’s dad is impressed with how Levis works with all athletes, regardless of skill levels.

“While at the same time pointing out flaws and things to work on with the rest of the team, Rob has an excellent rapport with the swimmers,” says Kramer. “He is very good at commending all successes. Last season Zach received lots of one-on-one time and this season Sage has. The improvements are impressive. What seems like minor details to many are huge milestones for these two boys. Zach, at practice this season, mainly practices with the rest of the team and follows the practice plan like everyone else, while Sage this year receives needed one-on-one time. It’s interesting for me because watching sage is a reminder of where Zach was and where I know Sage will be in the season to come. It’s a reminder of how much work these boys do to get to where they are at. Not only would I thank Coach Rob Levis but the whole team. This team treats everyone equally and they also show their support to Sage and Zach. When they can demonstrate or assist in any way, they will, they cheer on their teammates, congratulate them and make them feel as part of the team. Last night’s debut for Sage was another milestone in which I was not only excited for him and everyone involved but also thankful for everyone involved! Go VS CPU Storming Vikings!”

Zach Kramer listens to Coach Rob Levis as he prepares for his event.

Mike Kramer, Zach’s dad and long-time Special Olympics assistant who worked with Sage Holmes and Zach, relaxes with them during a break between events.

Sage’s parents also expressed their thanks to all who have helped him this season.

“We want to thank Coach Rob, all of Sage’s teammates, and the managers, who have really helped out,” says Jeff.

Teammate Cyrus Elwick says he has seen both Zach and Sage work hard and improve much since joining the team.

“Zach has improved a lot. He’s come a long way from when he first started. And Sage, on the first day of practice was using a kick board to help keep him up, but now he doesn’t need it. All I can say for them both is that they’ve both come a long way since their first day of practice,” says Elwick.

Grinnell won the meet, 57-37. See complete results here: 1051_001

See more photos of the meet, including photos of Sage and Zach, HERE.

Watch Sage during his first relay below: