Fourteen-year-old Lori Manson of College Park, who started swimming six years ago in her neighborhood pool, is one of 10 women who will represent the United States in the World Olympics for the Deaf this summer if enough funds can be found to pay her travel expenses and training costs. The games will be held in Romania.
Lori and two other girls, Cindy Sehnert of North Arlington, a student at Yorktown High School, and Pamela Scurlock of Dallas, Tex., a student at Gallaudet College in the District, all share a handicap, a sport and a desire to succeed that gets them up for 6 a.m. swimming sessions in the summer.
All three qualified for the Olympics in trials last summer in Southfield, Mich.
Of the three, Lori is the best swimmer, according to coach V. J. Meleski of the Arlington Aquatic Club, where the girls swim. "She has a tremendous amount of natural ability," he said.
Deaf since birth and the daughter of deaf parents, Lori started swimming at the College Park Woods pool, and won medals for swimming at the Michigan tryouts. She is also a two-time winner of the President's physical fitness award, said neighbor Patricia Templeton, who is helping to raise funds to send her to Romania.
Lori is a former student at the Kendall School for the Deaf, attended Parkdale Senior High School for one year and is currently a student at the Model Secondary School for the Deaf. She has already passed entrance exams for Gallaudet College which she will enter next year, said Templeton.
"She does everything everybody else does," said Templeton. "If you ask her now how she can, she looks at you and says, "Why not?'"
To compete in the Deaf Olympics, Lori and the other swimmers need $2,500 each to cover their costs. Templeton is raising money for Lori, and the Arlington Aquatic Club is raising funds for all three. A swim-a-thon, in which sponsors pledge so much money per lap swum by club members, is expected to raise much of the money.
Deaf athletes frequently have handicaps that put them at a disadvantage in competing with hearing athletes. For some deaf athletes, it is a question of balance being impaired along with their hearing. For others, it is because they get a late start in athletics because their deafness is mistaken for retardation. Also, "schools for the deaf frequently don't put much emphasis on athletics," said Laura Jean Gilbert, director of publications at Gallaudet.
Notwithstanding that, Lori probably ranks in the top 40 per cent of swimmers competing in the metropolitan Washington area, said coach Meleski.
Meleski has two other deaf swimmers who swim with the three deaf Olympic-bound students as members of the Arlington Aquatic Club.The girls have taught hearing members of the club some sign language and communicate by sign, lip reading and, if need be, with a pencil and paper.
"I really feel the hearing kids have gotten more out of the program than the deaf kids, through the exposure," he said.