Swim Team (NR)

Documentary 100 min. July 7, 2017
By Daphne Howland
Since the 1960s, when the Kennedys first worked to expand and popularize the Special Olympics, serious competition among athletes with intellectual disabilities has come to be seen as an uplifting endeavor — and not just for the athletes themselves. Lara Stolman covers that ground in her documentary about a YMCA swim team, the Jersey Hammerheads of Perth Amboy, New Jersey, whose members are all diagnosed with autism.

Swim Team doesn't dive into many specifics about the disorder — a wide-ranging spectrum of challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and communication — or the particulars of how it affects the three young men in focus. Stolman spends her time with the swimmers and their families, including Coach Mike and his wife, Maria, who taught their young son to swim out of safety concerns around their pool, despite warnings from doctors that he likely wouldn't ever talk or be able to put on his own pants.

Mikey, as a senior in high school, defied that diagnosis, not least as a top swimmer. For teammate Kelvin, who struggles with Tourette's syndrome, swimming proves better than medicine at controlling his tics, but waiting around between events is stressful enough to cause them. Unlike Mikey, Robert, who swims on two mainstream teams in addition to the Hammerheads, isn't aware of what makes him different from other kids at school. Despite its sticking to the surface, Swim Team is edifying. It's a portrait of heartbreak, frustration and triumph, sometimes for the swimmers, and sometimes for their moms and dads.
Lara Stolman Argot Pictures

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