Paige VanArsdale emerges during a breaststroke Friday at the Old Town Hot Springs swimming pool.

Photo by Scott Franz

Paige VanArsdale emerges during a breaststroke Friday at the Old Town Hot Springs swimming pool.

Steamboat Springs adaptive swim team creates opportunities for youths with disabilities

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Tyler Paoli practices swimming Friday at Old Town Hot Springs.

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Coach David Franzel leads a swimming practice Friday morning at Old Town Hot Springs.

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Kyle Taulman practices his freestyle Friday morning at the Old Town Hot Springs.

— David Franzel first began teaching swimming to people who were physically and cognitively disabled in YMCA programs in Chicago. He cites his daughter, Sascha, who died from cardiac complications in 2011, as the reason he is a devoted skiing and swimming coach.

“My daughter was my inspiration,” Franzel said.

Today, he runs Steamboat Springs’ adaptive swim team and is part of the reason there is one word that comes up frequently when the team is the topic of conversation: opportunity.

From the opportunity the team gives kids to compete to the opportunity it gives kids to simply be kids, the word seems to be everywhere.

“The goal is building teamwork and character and at the same time excelling in swimming at whatever level with an eye toward being a lifelong swimmer,” Franzel said.

As of now, there are three members of the team who take full advantage of those opportunities and work toward those goals.

Kyle Taulman is an exuberant 11-year-old who competes with all strokes in the individual medley. His teammate Tyler Paoli, 12, specializes in the freestyle and breaststroke. The eldest of the group at 13 is Paige VanArsdale, who participates in the same strokes as Tyler.

Each member of the team starts from the blocks, each moves incredibly well in the pool and each has a physical impairment.

Kyle is paraplegic, and Tyler and Paige have cerebral palsy.

Any amount of time spent with the team can show you none of that stops the smiles from growing ear to ear on their faces or their swimming from getting better each day.

“The swimmers are terrific,” said Franzel, who said the best part about running the team is “the looks on their faces when they know they’re improving.”

Along with a few “mini-meets” at the Old Town Hot Springs, the team also competed this summer in the Jimi Flowers Classic, which took place in June at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. The event gave each member of the team a chance to be classified, which means they now can enter other meets in the appropriate divisions in which they should compete.

Franzel is hoping the team can continue to grow with persistent optimism and encouragement.

“The team is benefiting from the support of the community, the Old Town Hot Springs, Jill Ruppel and, last but not least, their parents and families,” he said.

Ruppel is the director of programs at the hot springs and was instrumental in forming the team.

The team’s final meet of the year is at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at Old Town Hot Springs.

As far as his goals for the future, Franzel seems genuinely happy with being the coach of Steamboat’s adaptive swim team.

“I would hope that we would sustain a Paralympic swim program in Steamboat that is open to all disabilities,” Franzel said.

If the community keeps up its support, those hopes can stay alive and allow Franzel to keep providing countless opportunities to an incredible group of kids.

Jake Miller, a 2012 graduate of Steamboat Springs High School, is working as a summer intern for the Steamboat Pilot & Today. He recently completed his freshman year at Nebraska Wesleyan University.

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