SAN DIEGO — As Kendall Bailey swims, his praying-mantis limbs flapping him forward, something about the water disguises his many maladies: cerebral palsy, mental retardation, autism and more. Only in a swimming pool do they dissolve and allow his troubled body and mind to be all but normal. He is happy, safe and possibly the fastest disabled breaststroker in the world.
“I’m going to the Paralympics,” Bailey told a waiter last week at his favorite restaurant, speaking of the Olympic Games for disabled athletes in Beijing this September. He wears his Team USA jersey everywhere, every day, and sleeps under an American-flag blanket, occasionally with the medals he has won around his neck. “I’m going to swim for the U.S.A.”
Listening to Bailey stumble through his words, his mother, Connie Shaw, wanted to smile and imagine her son swimming on behalf of his country. But she couldn’t. For two months, all she has been able to imagine is his dreams being dashed — perhaps even by the United States itself.
Mrs. Shaw has been left with questions similar to those of other parents who fight bureaucracies they think are interfering with their disabled children’s rights and dreams. Was U.S. Paralympics really trying to protect Kendall when it formally requested that he be rendered ineligible for the Beijing Games? Or did team officials file the appeal simply not wanting the distraction of handling a 6-foot-6-inch 19-year-old with an elementary-school mind and a nursery-school temperament?
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