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Swimming helps 'Gami teen navigate the turbulence of life with autism

OCEAN CITY — Stanley Adams was so anxious for his first competitive high school swim that he jumped in the water on the first whistle he heard.

No problem. When he realized the other swimmers from Absegami and Ocean City high schools were still standing on their respective starting platforms, Adams calmly swam back, climbed out of the pool and, with a big smile, returned to his platform for the start of the race.

At the starting signal he entered the water with the other swimmers, and with each successive leg kick and arm stroke he took in the 50-yard freestyle race, the cheers from the crowd at the Ocean City Aquatic Center grew louder.

When Adams finished the race, he was greeted with hugs from his Absegami teammates, coaches, family and friends. He looked like he was ready to swim another 50 yards or so.

“It didn’t faze him at all,” his mother, Karyn Adams, said of the false start. “It would have thrown me off. But he’s getting used to the attention.”

Adams, 17 and a senior at Absegami, has what is called a pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified, abbreviated as PDD-NOS, which is on the autism spectrum, according to his mother. He has been swimming for less than a year in a special autistic swimming program run by Sari Puzio at Brigantine Aquatics Center.

“It was fun,” Adams said after the Jan. 3 race. “I heard everybody cheering for me, and I swam great, I swam excellent. I love swimming.”

“It was a special day for me,” said Puzio, who runs the program, called Massi’s Mission, through Faces 4 Autism. “The first day he came in he almost drowned … but he’s been working so hard. We’re really proud of him. I can’t believe he did it. It’s amazing.”

When Absegami’s first-year swim coach Jim Winkler heard about the program, he knew he had to give Adams a chance to swim in a real high school meet.

“That’s what sports is for, opportunities,” Winkler said. “I was happy to have him, and as soon as I could get him in the pool, I did. It’s just a good family, and a really, really sweet kid.”

Adams' younger brother, Stephon, was on hand to watch his brother compete. Their mother said Stanley continues to surprise and delight with his attitude and his ability to overcome obstacles.

“I never thought it would happen, but I never limit him,” she said. “Everything he tries, he tries his best. He’s such a hard worker. He’s such an awesome kid.”

Karyn Adams said learning how to swim has helped her son navigate the turbulent waters of everyday life as an autistic teenager. “I think it’s helped him to be more patient,” she said. “The first couple weeks, he said, ‘Oh, this is too hard.’ I said, ‘Listen, give it one more shot, stick with it,’ and he did.”

Winkler, who also coaches the Absegami girls team, said Adams' effort was an inspiration to the entire swim program.

“It’s something to rally behind,” Winkler said. “That moment wasn’t just great for him, it was great to see everybody react like that. That was the main deal.”

“It was definitely great to cheer him on,” said senior teammate Justin Yin. It’s really cool to see how far he grew. He’s actually swimming now.”

“I want to thank coach Winkler for giving him the opportunity to swim,” said senior Tatum Henry.

“I know some coaches wouldn’t let him join the team because he has a disability, but that shouldn’t stop him. You saw everyone cheering for him. It’s not like we were the only ones. It’s just so nice to see how much he’s improved.”

To see a video and more photos of Stanley Adams' swim, go to

Contact: 609-601-5195

Twitter @ShoreNewsSports

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