Making a splash: Scott finds success in meets for swimmers

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Susan Beth Scott is different, special.

Most may not notice. They may think Scott is your typical 12-year-old girl, an "A" honor roll student at Central Junior High, ready to finish off seventh grade and enjoy the summer.

But Susan Beth is reminded with every step she takes.

She knows she has limitations on how fast she can run or how far she can kick a soccer ball.

In the pool, things are different. In the pool, Susan Beth Scott is emerging as a world-class paralympic swimmer with a goal of competing in the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing.

"It's hard to imagine right now, really," said Mike Scott, Susan Beth's father. "We're focusing on a meet at a time, just a meet at a time, and the training."

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Susan Beth Scott was born with a form of spina bifada, the most common permanently disabling birth defect according to the Spina Bifeda Association.

Susan Beth had tissue attached to her spinal cord and had surgery at 7 months to remove it, said her parents, Mike and Alicia Scott. She had another operation at age 4 to remove scar tissue that had attached to the spinal cord.

"The spinal cord is supposed to be free floating," Alicia Scott said, "The tissue puts pressure on the cord." In Susan Beth's case, nerves on the lower end of her spine are affected, and she doesn't have full feeling in her left leg.

"It affects me when I walk, and I can't run that fast," Susan Beth said.

With parents who had sporting backgrounds - Alicia coached basketball and Mike coached baseball and basketball - Susan Beth has competed in a wide range of sports, testing her limits.

"She played soccer, softball and basketball when she was younger," Mike Scott said. "She played, but with limited running and kicking. The more she did, you could find out her limits and find out that there was numbness there.

"When they're young, they may not know how to tell you what they're feeling. She has to know the difference."

In fourth grade, Susan Beth expressed an interest in swimming competitively.

"The natural progression is to bring kids along in the sport you know well," Mike Scott said. "Susan Beth always enjoyed the water but neither of us had that background. Swimming was foreign to us. But if that's where your kid's interest is, and it's not in the sports you know, you pack up the things and say, 'Let's go.' We've learned to enjoy it. It's been a lot of fun."

With Susan Beth swimming for the Gators, Mike and Alicia became certified USA swimming officials.

Alicia, the assistant athletic director for compliance at Southeast Missouri State, is president of the club's board; Mike, the principal at Bell City High School, does some of the publicity work for the club.

Their son, Ramsey, 10, also swims with the Gators.

"He started coming to swim practices with his sister," Mike Scott said. "He went from just fooling in the pool to working out for conditioning. It's something that's been good for him, too."

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In most swimming meets, Susan Beth would not be the first swimmer to grab one's attention. In this past weekend's meet the Gators hosted at Central Municipal Pool, her best finishes were a 12th in the 50-meter freestyle for ages 11 and 12 and a 10th among 10 in a 800 freestyle event that featured swimmers two to four years older than her.

Susan Beth swam in 10 events,including five events outside her age group.

"Against swimmers without disabilities, she does really well," Gators coach Steve Franklin said.

Franklin has coached several accomplished swimmers in the paralympic program.

"They swim with the same intensity, they train just as hard, they want it just as much, and they enjoy it just as much," Franklin said.

And they are just starting to get some recognition.

The Scotts stumbled upon the Paralympic Games last year by chance.

"We were with our son out of town at a soccer tournament and we happened to be in the hotel, just switching channels on TV," Mike Scott said.

The Paralympic Games take place immediately following Olympic events at the same venues - last year, for instance, Athens, Greece. The governing body for the United States, U.S. Paralympics, was formed in 2001 as a division of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

The Scotts found out more information on swimming opportunities for disabled swimmers, and Susan Beth competed in her first meet -- the second annual Greater Toledo Athletic Club Disability Open -- last month in Ypsilanti, Mich.

"When her mother asked me about it, I thought it'd be fun to see how Susan Beth would do," Franklin said.

"Paralympics gives athletes like Susan a chance to excel on equal footing, which is what I like the most about it."

Susan Beth did well, winning the 1,500- and 200-meter freestyle events and the 200-meter breaststroke. In the 400 freestyle, her time of 5 minutes, 37.54 seconds currently ranks 14th in the world in the open competition for women in her disability level. (She lost that event to one of the world's top three swimmers.) Susan Beth also ranks among the top 30 in the world in the 100 and 50 freestyle events.

"And she's only 12," Franklin said. "She has a good chance to make the world team. The hard part is the better swimmers are in the U.S., so that's going to be a challenge. She is very aggressive and a hard-working young lady, and that's going to pay off for her. In the past year, she's really become a lot faster. I think she'll continue improving.

"This gives her realistic goals. To me, they're definitely within range."

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Susan Beth greets a newspaper interview with a skeptical look of many her age.

"She's like a lot of kids," her dad says. "She's kind of shy but not when she gets around her friends." The trip to Michigan was an experience for her.

"It was really cool to be with people who have the same disability I have," Susan Beth said. "Many of them were worse, and it made me realize I don't have it that bad."

"You see events," said her mother, "where people take their wheelchair up to the side of the pool or people with one arm and one leg swimming the butterfly ... and you count your blessings.

"It was eye-opening to see this amazing opportunity to compete with people with like disabilities," Alicia Scott added. "And she's pretty good."

The meet after all is a competition featuring some of the best paralympic athletes in the world. Four world records were broken. She plans to compete again in another disability swimming meet in Minnesota later this year.

"The first meet was kind of a learning experience to see where I fall," Susan Beth said.

Now she knows she is special, a world-class swimmer who may swim in the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing.

"It would definitely be a great honor," Alicia Scott said, "and give her a great platform to encourage others with disabilities to overcome those disabilities and have an event to compete in."

"It's hard to imagine your kid would be able to do that," Mike Scott said. "But when I match her numbers in with the Paralympics Web site with swimmers in her class, it's a reality."

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