MISHAWAKA, Ind. (WNDU) - It’s the heart of high school swim season. Teams are practicing every day and competing in up to three meets a week.
When you meet Morgan Minder, she is sure to put a smile on your face. She’s a dedicated swimmer just trying to be in the water as much as she can.
“I don’t really make any exceptions,” Marian swim coach Micah Niespodziany said. “She doesn’t need any exceptions because she’s willing to do it. She wants to be here.”
Morgan is gearing up for another swim meet, getting as many laps in the pool as possible to prepare.
“I can’t say enough of how proud we are of Morgan,” said Valerie Minder, Morgan's mom. “She always tries her hardest and doesn’t give up.”
Morgan has Down syndrome. But to her teammates and coaches, she’s just like every other swimmer.
“I can build a team with that kind of compassion and love for everyone that you don’t look at a disability,” Niespodziany said. “You look at a human.”
Morgan swam for St. Joseph County Special Olympics for four years. Now a freshman at Marian, she continues to swim for exercise.
“It’s kind of good and makes my whole body feel good,” Morgan said.
“I think it gives her a lot of confidence,” Valerie Minder said. “Not just in swimming but in other aspects in school and her life.”
In just two months with the team, Morgan has transformed.
“She’s gone from being super shy and reserved to high-fiving teammates, talking on the bus with everybody, sharing memories and stories,” Niespodziany said. “The kids help her all of the time with all facets of it. She gets in there and cheers. She’s really come out of her shell and is like your typical high school teammate.”
Niespodziany brought Morgan onto the team without hesitation.
“To be able to do something that all of the other kids are doing that is physically challenging, emotionally challenging, mentally challenging, to make yourself get out there and do it and be able to do it just like everybody else is a good assurance to her that she’s got a place in the world,” Niespodziany said.
Morgan loves her coaches and teammates.
“They’re really nice and help me with my cap and they’re really super nice,” Morgan said. “She’s the best coach.”
Her mom goes to every practice but lets Morgan be on her own.
At Marian, Morgan is a part of the Bernadette Scholars program, geared toward each student’s interests and goals.
“Being a part of Marian High School and the swim team program has really helped Morgan mature in a lot of areas,” Valerie Minder said. “She does have a lot of confidence in coming to school and doing things more on her own.”
Nespo says Morgan’s dreams are limitless.
“Could she go to the Paralympics some day?” Niespodziany said. “That’d be pretty cool.”
Morgan and her family want every child to know that their dreams, too, can come true.
“We are hoping that Morgan will be an inspiration I guess to other children with special needs, that they don’t have to limit what they do and give them the confidence to step up and be a part of other teams or activities, whatever they would like to do,” Valerie Minder said.
“I want all the kids to try it and have fun,” Morgan said.
Morgan competes in the 50-meter freestyle for the Knights.
Her coach says that she felt Morgan finally come out of her shell after one practice. As Morgan was leaving, she yelled, “I love you, coach
Ever since then, she has been fully involved with the team.