Colwood teen Nerissa Zelych practices at Crystal Pool six days a week in preparation for Paralympic trials.

A butterfly emerges: Belmont teen finds her way through adaptation

Adapting to compete in life is still how the Grade 12 Belmont secondary school student lives her life

Nerissa Zelych was born with Erb’s Palsy. She has limited strength and mobility in her right arm and has undergone surgeries including a muscle transfer, bone removal and a bone rotation.

More recently doctors discovered both of her legs are weaker than they should be and figure it was also caused at birth due to issues with her brain.

As a toddler, her physique was more conducive to walking than crawling – so she did.

Now a competitive swimmer, she earned a spot at the Canada Games and will compete at the trials for the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

“This is a very big deal for me. (The Games) is a stepping stone to the actual Paralympics,” she said smiling. “Almost every swimmer who goes to the Canada Games makes it on the team. That is what I want to do.”

She’ll compete in the Canada Games in Sherbrooke, Que. Aug. 1 to 19, after qualifying in the 50- and 100-metre fly and 50- and 100-metre breaststroke. She can also choose to compete in more events.

What began as an idea from a physiotherapist five years ago morphed into a passion but it didn’t always come easy.

“(Standard) swim lessons didn’t adapt the strokes for me. I failed Level 4 seven times,” said the Colwood teen.

Things changed when the 17-year-old began swimming with the Paralympics club at Crystal Pool in Victoria.

“Now swimming is my life, I can’t imagine not swimming,” she said. “It’s amazing to be at a large para swim meet where all the people are disabled and everyone is competing and they don’t care what other people think.”

She’s adapted the strokes to suit her abilities, for butterfly she swims with just her left arm.

“I can’t move my right arm back enough for it. It’s an illegal stroke if your elbow doesn’t clear the water,” she said.

Training six days a week is also improving her movement outside the water, with significant improvement of strength and mobility of her right arm.

“I used to have difficulty even carrying a jacket,” she said.

 

Zelych graduates from Belmont this month and plans to spend the next year training for the Paralympic trials. In the fall of 2015 she hopes to attend BCIT’s digital animation program.