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Dolphins swim program is therapy and fun for Julia Hay

Six-year-old with speech disability uses her eyes to communicate
By: Martha Garcia, Loomis News Editor
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You can see Julia Hay’s enthusiasm for swimming in her eyes. And even though she has a speech disability, it doesn’t keep her from being part of the Loomis Basin Dolphins swim team. The six-year-old was diagnosed with schizencephaly when she was still a toddler, said her mother, Stacey Hay. The developmental disorder is caused by “a cleft, or void, in the brain, bigger for some, smaller for others. Hers has affected her speech,” Stacey said. Julia, said her mother, has mild cerebral palsy and “her whole left side is weak.” Julia’s two older siblings, 10-year-old Macy and Thomas, 9, were already on the Dolphins team so when Julia expressed interest in joining them, her family saw the added benefit of swimming as physical therapy to strengthen her weak side. The swim team, Stacey said, “has just been amazing for her.” Julia “loves the coaches, she loves the interaction of the children.” The team is very family oriented and emphasizes personal best, Stacey said. Doing the best for Julia, or any team member, is what everyone emphasizes. Stacey recalled the first time Julia raced: “She came down the lane, she looked up at me, got out, had this huge smile on her face. She was very happy that she got to participate.” The young swimmers on the team do backstroke and freestyle and are given ribbons for their efforts. Julia, said Stacey, has received many ribbons and her ribbon collection is very important to her. Ben Emard and Ryan Toohey coach the Dolphins with the help of six associate coaches. Emard said the Dolphins’ philosophy is “to build character and develop a competitive attitude and at the same time try to have as much fun as possible.” The team has about 180 swimmers, he said, who compete in six age groups, ranging in age from 4 through 18, in the Sierra Foothill League. The season runs from May through July. Emard, 20, has been on the team since he was 7 years old. He said it’s been a very rewarding experience and “you can make so many friends through spending the summer with the team.” The Loomis resident and 2007 Del Oro High School graduate is headed to the University of Southern California in the fall, but plans to be back next summer to coach the Dolphins one more time. It was Emard, Stacey explained, who helped Julia feel included as a Dolphin. “Coach Ben made it a point at the very first swim practice to learn every child’s name. To me that is what made her feel part of the team,” she said. Julia, her mother added, is a very bright, normal child. “That’s why being part of the team is important, because she knows what’s going on.” Because Julia’s speech is limited, she communicates with her eyes, through facial expressions and by using sign language, said her mother. The entire family, which also includes Julia’s father, Tom, and Matthew, 4, and Henry, 2, has learned sign language, or ASL, so they can read Julia’s signing. “What we find, because she can hear, she’s signing to us, and we don’t sign a lot,” Stacey said. Unfortunately, said Stacey, ASL is not as universal as she had hoped, and many people are unable to read Julia’s signs. One sign that is very easy to figure out is also one of Julia’s favorites: Positioning the hand as if holding an ice-cream cone and licking. That gets her mom to stop for an ice cream on the way home, most of the time.