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From Russia with Love

by Herb Brill

Just as I showed up at the Paul Blair Memorial Invitational and as I was saying my hellos to my fellow coaches in the LSC; Toni Marleneanu, head coach of the AquaKids, gets my attention to watch his swimmer in lane one.  I just got to the meet in time for the Girls 400IM and as his swimmer passed in front of me, I noticed something different; she was not an able-bodied swimmer.  That is the term used to define those who are considered to have a disability.  She swam that 400IM in 7:46.30.  She swam 8 other events at the meet setting PB’s:

50y Free – 34.15

100y Free – 1:11.95

200y Free – 2:37.00

100y Back – 1:35.79

200y Back – 3:23.17

100y Breast – 1:56.39

100y Fly – 1:54.85

200y IM – 3:22.96

From earlier meets:

500y Free – 7:45.84

50y Back – 47.84

50y Fly – 46.94

All of these events has qualified her to compete in the U.S. Nationals/U.S. Open Able-Bodied Equivalent Can-AM Open Meet for Disability Swimmers in Bismarck, ND 12/10/2015.  This is an IPC Approved event providing International Classification to make it possible to be part of the U.S. Paralympics Swimming National Team and Qualify for the Paralympic Trials.

Her name is Julia Kay Gaffney and is 15 years old and a member of the AquaKids swim team in Conway, Arkansas.  Dan and Kristin Gaffney of Mayflower, Arkansas adopted her from Russia when she was 5 years old.

Julia is a young lady who has no problem getting around where it is hard not to take notice.  Without her prosthetics she uses her arms to move around the deck effortlessly when she goes to warm-up/down and get behind the block before her event.  According to the Physical Impairment Classification, she has been Nationally Classified SB7 / S8.  Her left leg goes down below the knee a bit about ½ length of what a normal shin length would be.  Her right leg femur looks like is only 6-8”.  She uses her left leg to plant toward the front of the block to explode from during the start and what she uses during her turns, planting it on the wall during her flip turn for her free and back.

When I asked Julia why she chose swimming her dad, Dan, enlighten me on her general competitiveness, playing baseball and softball when she was younger would be a challenge to continue in her teenage years.  He told me Julia’s mother, Kristin who had a competitive swimming experience herself, looked for and found the Maumelle Marlins, a summer league swim team in Maumelle, Arkansas in the spring of 2014.  During this time Kristin was researching Paralympic Swimming resources and was led to the Endeavor Games at the University of Central Oklahoma’s Wellness Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma June of 2014.  She swam with another paralympic athlete during that event, Haven Shepherd ( See Story Here), whom is a member of the Jasper County Killer Whales, has also qualified to compete at the Can-Am Open Meet.  See Endeavor Games 2014 Results Here

This past spring of 2015, Julia begins to swim again with the Maumelle Marlins and at the end of the season her mother decides to look into something that offers more of a year round program and Julia joins the AquaKids.  Instead of this year Endeavor Games at the UCO Wellness Center, chooses to go to the California Classic on September 12-13th, part of U.S. Paralympics Team USA Emerging level event.  Haven Shepherd also attends this event.  See the 2015 California Classic Results Here

Asking Julia if she was intimidated competing in the able-bodied USA-Swimming events, she said “I’m not, I just focus on making the Can-Am times and having fun.”  When I asked if she ever feels she can’t wait to go to practice, she said “most of the time but some times not.”

Julia likes doing things outdoors, basketball, fishing and just romping around like any other able-bodied kid.  She’s a great person to get to know and I’m looking forward to seeing her achieve her endeavors.

Our LSC’s, Arkansas Swimming, Disability Chair is Emily Hanson, also coaches for the AquaKids.  Her e-mail is: [email protected]

USA Swimming Disability Committee Mission Statement:

USA Swimming encourages people with disabilities to participate in the sport of swimming and facilitates their inclusion in USA Swimming programs through education and collaboration.

We seek to involve people with disabilities in existing competitions and programs for all swimmers, rather than provide unique disability-only opportunities. Swimmers who prefer disability-only programs should consult the links menu in the “Get Involved” section below. Click here to view the latest disability swimming resources including videos and articles.

U.S. Paralympics