This is the story of a swim team, but not just any swim team. The Jersey Hammerheads is a team made up of kids with autism. New Jersey, where the film was made and its participants live, has the highest rate of autism in the country, with one in 26 boys afflicted with the disorder.
Swim Team on Deck
Despite that, the three young men featured in this film train, compete, and win. Mike McQuay and his wife Maria founded the team to give their son, Mikey, a chance to feel included and a chance to excel. And, as he says so poignantly, “When I’m swimming, I feel normal.”
Mikey and his dad, Coach Mike
Lara Stolman’s inspiring first documentary is also about parenting and not giving up on your kids. It’s about encouraging them to be their best, while recognizing that “best” can mean different things. Most were told that their boys would never speak, write, or even graduate high school. That proved not to be true. But there are still challenges and there always will be. Robby is in the 11th grade, but reads at a 4th grade level; and there is a painful scene when his Mom tries to explain to him that he is “special.” Kelvin’s Mom and Dad have had to deal with their son’s autism and his Tourette syndrome. They’ve tried different meds and different doses, but none has had much affect. Mikey is now a high school graduate, but can find only part-time work. For all of the parents, there is the on-going fear of the future for their kids.
In the meantime, the team provides a safe haven, where the boys share camaraderie and a sense of accomplishment. So they’ll never be Michael Phelps, but with the amount of joy it brings them and their families, I’m not sure it matters. This is a sweet, sad, heartbreaking, and heartwarming film.
Swim Team airs at 10 p.m. October 2 on PBS.
Photo credit: American Documentary