Swimming is Noah Rinehart's passion.
He loves being in the water.
So much so that his father John Rinehart jokes that he thinks Noah has gills.
But in 2006, when Noah was 13, he dove into a pool at swimming practice -- as he had many times before -- and the unthinkable happened.
He hit the bottom of the pool and suffered a compression fracture of his neck that left him paralyzed from the chest down, with only partial use of his arms.
He no longer just had Down Syndrome.
"It was kind of a slow realization, because nobody wanted to tell us he was paralyzed," John said. "We were left on our own.
"Obviously, it was a life-changing experience for him and for us as well," said John.
|CLAUDETTE ROULO VIDEO|
The Rinehart home in Dover Township was not wheelchair-accessible, so Noah had to sleep in the screened-in porch after being released from the hospital. A few months later, wheelchair
ramps and an addition now referred to as "Noah's Quarters" were completed at their home.
Back in the water: Noah, now 19, returned to the pool a year after the accident.
He practiced and practiced, and by the time he entered Dover Area High School, he was a member of the varsity swimming team.
Most of the pools at competitions are not accessible for someone in a wheelchair, John said, so Noah's teammates would simply lower him into the water together.
He keeps his legs tied together and then just swims -- relying on his upper body strength.
"I've got great biceps," Noah said while flexing.
But in the next beat he quickly added that he looks like a "mother walrus" in the pool.
"I tell him he looks like a manatee," his dad said with a laugh.
Regardless of what he looks like in the pool, Noah's swimming won him two gold medals at last year's Special Olympics at Penn State. And in 2010, when he first returned to competitive swimming, Noah was awarded the Sheetz Family Award of Excellence.
In father's care: Noah's mother, Becky, works full-time, and John works from the family's home in Dover Township so he can take care of Noah 24-7.
John must lift and carry Noah into and out of his wheelchair and help him complete daily activities like bathing, getting dressed, and getting in and out of bed.
Visiting nurses provide a break about three days a week when they take a four-hour shift to spend time with Noah.
"Faith gives you something else to hold onto when everything else seems to fall apart," John said, and when things get frustrating you have to take a deep breath.
"It's a lot of work, but it's your kid, so you do it," John said. "There is a parental obligation and it's something you have to do."
John and Noah both play in the Columbia VFW band -- Noah plays trombone, and his dad plays baritone horn.
Noah volunteers by himself at the Dover Community Library once a week, and during the school year Noah also volunteers at Dover Area High School, from which he graduated in 2011.
This year Noah taught a Sunday school class of fifth- and sixth-graders at his church, Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in East Berlin, and later this summer Noah will attend Camp Wesley Forest, where his girlfriend Katie is a camp counselor.
The family has a modified wheelchair van to transport Noah, and he refers to his dad as his personal driver.
"We haven't ruled out having him learn how to drive sometime, but that's a longer-range project," John said.
Noah has one older brother, Luther, who attends the University of Chicago and John hopes to find a way to take Noah along to his brother's graduation next spring. For now, traveling can be a struggle and a daunting undertaking.
Noah is grateful for his family, for his dad and the time they get to spend together.
"I'm thankful for everything that he does to take care of us," Noah said. "Take care of your families. Thank you to all of the fathers that are taking care of their families and the housework."
-- Reach Chelsea Shank at email@example.com.