For all his life, Zach Kramer has impressed those who know him with his energy and enthusiasm and willingness to try new things.
So it was only just a little bit surprising when Zach, the son of Mike Kramer and Kris Kramer of Vinton, showed up at a Vinton-Shellsburg High School swim team event and announced he wanted to join the team.
“He had never taken a swimming lesson in his life,” says Kris.
Mike said Zach had mentioned his interested in swimming, but his father did not know how serious that interest was until he got the call from the school saying Zach was with the swimmers.
Zach, a VSHS freshman who has Down’s Syndrome, has participated in many athletic events with the VSU (Vinton Shellsburg United) Special Olympics team, and has advanced to State several times.
But when it was time to get into the pool at the Iowa Braille School campus, Zach was afraid at first. Ht took his first lessons with teammates who had been swimming for years with the Vinton Aquatic Club. He wore flippers and an inflated vest at first. But soon he was swimming on on his own and last week, during an open swim, he even out-raced his father.
VS boys swimming Coach Rob Levis and others helped him. Swimmer Lewis Williams, who is Zach’s partner in PE Class at VSHS, is frequently at his side. And says Coach Levis, team manager Kaitlyn Goodell has worked with Zach more than anyone.
Finally, on Tuesday, Zach showed he was ready to compete with the rest of the team. Coach Levis put him in one of the Vikings’ three four-man 160 meter freestyle relay teams.
Zach went first, and fans and swimmers from both VS and Williamsburg applauded and cheered Zach as he swam the 20-meter length of the pool and back to complete his 40-meter leg.
After he climbed back into the water, Zach received many words of congratulations from the other swimmers and a pat on the head from his coach.
Zach didn’t seem nervous at all, and said it was fun to be out there with the rest of his team.
“He was probably the only one who wasn’t nervous,” said the Coach.
“I didn’t sleep much last night,” said his dad.
Levis said having Zach on the team has taught everyone a lot. He said Zach inspires his teammates, who help look out for him.
“He just wants to be one of the guys,” said Levis, who is seeing how interacting with his teammates is improving Zach’s social skills.
Assistant coach Mike Dominick and Tom Lindauer have also been a big help with Zach, says Levis.
Many members of Zach’s family joined his parents at the IBSSS pool on Tuesday to watch Zach, who greeted them after the meet. A TV newsman was also there and Zach spent some time in front of the camera.
While Zach’s time was among the slowest of the event, his performance was “the best swim of the night,” says his coach.
The Vikings honored seniors Ben Eden, Ryan Levis and Alex Dick, and won the conference championship by defeating Williamsburg by a team score of 59-34.
See meet results here: swim118