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Updated: Wednesday, July 23 2014, 12:08 PM CDT
Pensacola is the home of the nation’s only year round special needs swim team. Seastars Aquatics. They give the gift of swimming to children who have physical, mental and economic needs. They practice twice a week at the Salvation Army off of Pace Blvd. At first, many of the children were afraid to even get in the water, but now they are swimming laps and even competing. 13-year-old Abi Chambers was born with cerebral palsy. Doctors told her she would never walk unassisted, let alone compete on a swim team. Now she can swim up to 30 laps a day. Abi said, “At first I was terrified. I didn’t like putting my head in the water. I hated it but now I can do backflips, handstands, all sorts of things. Her mother watches her with pride. Missy Chambers said, “Just in awe she can do it. Doctors said she could never run or walk without a walker and now she is swimming. It’s amazing.” Abi started Seastars 7 years ago. The team competes in swim meets against other teams in the area. It’s 100% free for children with mental, physical, and economic needs.The program is unique because it’s the only year round special needs swim team in the country. They develop programs for children with all different types of disabilities. Swim instructor, Lilia Oakey Whitehouse said, “A lot of them are doing it for muscle development, balance, behavior, listening to direction. They are respecting someone that isn’t mom or dad. They are talking to someone other than mom or dad.” Seastars was created 10 years ago mainly because competitive swimming wasn’t an option for special needs children and because many poor families couldn’t afford it. The program has made a huge difference in Abi’s life. Her goal is to one day be a dolphin trainer. Her mom said it was a game changer for their family. “It makes me very proud, never thought she would be able to do something like this.” said Missy Chambers.