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March 17, 2009

Swimmer shows us how to stay afloat

World-class athlete paralyzed in accident

TERRE HAUTE — This afternoon in Terre Haute South Vigo High School’s swimming pool, a world-class athlete will demonstrate the power of “mind over body.”

As Dave Denniston hauls his 6-feet, 3-inch frame of 160 pounds across the water, it’s impressive to note that it’s with upper body strength alone.

“My upper body is stronger than it’s ever been,” said Denniston, a former Auburn University swimmer who missed the U.S.A. Olympic team by only two positions in 2000 and 2004.

But in February 2005, an accident in the mountains broke his back and injured his spinal cord, paralyzing his legs.

For a man who had been swimming competitively since he was 8 years old, changing career paths was not an option.

“There wasn’t another [career] for me,” the 30-year-old said Tuesday afternoon in Indiana State University’s Rhoads Hall.

And so it was, that after learning how to swim all over again and years of grueling training, Denniston went on to compete on the U.S.A. Paralympic Swim Team in Beijing last September.

“Twice as hard to go half as fast,” he joked, noting that the legs which once propelled him through the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke events now pull against his stride. “The World Championships are next year.”

But good-humored humility aside, a champion’s determination shines through Denniston’s eyes.

“It’s racing,” he said. “I like going as fast as I can.”

A member of the 2002 and 2003 World Champion teams which competed in Moscow and Barcelona, that drive propelled him through what many would have considered a career-ending event into a new one in the same waters.

Following a youth swim clinic at the high school, Denniston will speak on “Mind over Body” at ISU’s Hulman Memorial Student Union, Dede I at 5:30 this evening.

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