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Swim Team

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Jul 7, 2017
'Swim Team'
'Swim Team'  

Lara Stolman's documentary "Swim Team" follows the New Jersey Hammerheads through their first year of competition, on their way to the Special Olympics. The team is comprised of young men who fall on the autism spectrum; the team is also, we learn, diverse and reflective of the community from which its members are drawn.

Maria McQuay and her husband, team coach Michael McQuay, founded the Hammerheads as an extension of the swimming therapy they found to be helpful for their son, Michael. Swimming has made a huge difference in the younger Michael's life; when he first diagnosed very early in life, his parents were told he would never be able to dress or care for himself. In the water, he swims like a champ; on land, he professes a love for animals and exhibits a calm, attentive demeanor that helps him land a summer job at a local zoo.

Swimming is also therapeutic for Michael's teammates, including Kelvin -- a young man who also suffers Tourette's and is given to angry outbursts; the sport gives him a place to channel those impulses. Robbie, another team member, swims with two other teams as well as with the Hammerheads; his career aspirations lie with drawing and animation, though his mother frets that he's not been given adequate vocational training through the public school system.

Indeed, all the young men are faced with challenges for which public services -- education, group homes -- are woefully inadequate to provide. Michael's mother learns only too late that her son could have qualified for more educational support from the school district than he actually received; such support is expensive, and to hear her tell it, no one wanted to her to know about those options before he graduated high school. It's hard not to respond to her disappointment in the system after having heard her husband's moving story about finding Michael weeping in his room one day, wondering why "God made him different."

But where providence and the public realm may have let these fellows down, the opportunity arises for others -- family, employers -- to step up, and they do. With the faith and support of those around them, the Hammerheads achieve athletic distinction. The road has some bumps (the relay team take first place at one meet, only to be disqualified on a technicality), and life with the young men can be a challenge for their parents and their coach, but their solid teamwork is an example of what sportsmanship can and should be.

Technically as well as emotionally, this is a film that hooks you: Director of photography Laela Kilbourn captures some beautiful aquatic photography.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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