AVON — Any athlete will tell you that you don’t make it to the highly competitive level of even being considered for an Olympic team with just a little work.
It takes practice and a lot of it.
On Thursday, Breanna Sprenger, an 11-year-old girl born with no legs and just one arm, was in her practice zone as she swam up and down the pool at the French Creek YMCA. She works out with swim coach Kim Audibert at least three days a week and those practice sessions have gotten Breanna to her latest feat.
Just days after she returned from a meet where she snagged a first-place finish and three second-place finishes, Breanna learned she has been nominated for a spot on the U.S. Paralympic World Team — a first for her.
It doesn’t mean she is guaranteed to compete for the gold in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, but Breanna is one step closer to that level. She has several meets between now and then, but she now knows the U.S. Paralympic coaches are watching her and that is something she has been working toward for more than a year.
“I think she was a little in shock when she learned about it,” said her father, John Sprenger.
“I couldn’t stop crying,” her mother, Carrie Sprenger, said.
Breanna was just getting off the school bus less than a week ago when her mother delivered the news. She made a beeline for the family computer to see her name listed among the other swimmers.
“I had to look at my name three times. I thought I was probably reading it wrong,” Breanna said. “I was like ‘I made the team. Oh, baby.’ ”
An hour in the pool with Audibert on Thursday did not diminish Breanna’s energy as she talked about her goal of becoming a Paralympic swimmer.
“It’s not work. I still love to swim. It’s fun,” she said.
Lap after lap with Audibert nearby, Breanna smiled as she glided through the water, focusing on getting better.
“Oh, she has gotten so much better in just this last year,” said Audibert, who has been Breanna’s coach and that of the French Creek Marlins swim team for years. “Look at her right now. She is learning how to breathe on the right side of her body. That’s hard for her because she has to continue to learn how to change her stroke to pull and stay to the side.”
Just something as simple as turning her head to a different side so she can continue to use her only arm to pull her through the water is enough to shave precious seconds off her times. When competing, Breanna swims the 50- and 100-meter freestyle events as well as the 50- and 100-meter backstroke.
“She knows what she has to do,” John Sprenger said. “Yes, she is nominated in her class, but she has to have people to swim against, so we still have a hurdle to get over. Right now there are just three swimmers in the world classified in her class, and in order to swim in the next world meet, which is in Montreal, there needs to be at least five. This isn’t the next step to Rio, but this is definitely the path.”
Up next for Breanna are meets in Cincinnati and Colorado Springs.
“The neatest part is she still gets to swim against her mentor and meet people who all have amazing stories,” Carrie Sprenger said. “She gets to hang out with people like Victoria Arlen, who woke up from a coma, swam in two meets and went on to the Paralympics in London last year and won a gold medal.”
Breanna’s story will not exactly be the same, but the feisty girl — cheerleader, straight-A student and student class president — knows her story will be just as amazing. After all, each chapter just keeps getting better.
“Just keep watching me,” she said.
The Sprenger family is raising funds to help offset travel expenses associated with the several swim meets Breanna Sprenger must attend as she pursues her dream of being a U.S. Paralympic swimmer. A bank account for donations has been set up at Huntington Bank under the name Team Breanna. Donations can also be sent to Team Breanna, P.O. Box 422, Avon, OH 44011.
Visit its Facebook page — search “Team Breanna” — for details on two upcoming fundraisers.
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.