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Toledo area coach recognized as mentor for disabled



The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
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A swim coach known locally for his work with swimmers with disabilities has received national recognition.

Keith Kennedy, coach of Greater Toledo Aquatic Club and St. Francis de Sales High School, was presented the National Disability Service Award at the recent USA Swimming national convention.

USA Swimming is the national governing body of competitive swimming.

"It recognizes the person that tries to give back to the disability sport of swimming the most," Mr. Kennedy said. "For me, I was very humbled even being nominated for the award because people have done tremendous things."

Mr. Kennedy is responsible for starting the GTAC Disability Open, now in its seventh year.

The local event came about because swimmers with disabilities interested in participating in trials for the U.S. Paralympics needed a meet to prepare.

It grew into an annual event where large numbers of swimmers are classified to compete against others with similar disabilities and then compete.

"There's a lot of kids who can't do other sports or don't think they can do other sports," he said. "When you're in the water, you're kind of weightless and can move easier in the water."

Mr. Kennedy said he coaches his able-bodied swimmers and those with disabilities the same way because once they are in the pool, they are all swimmers.

"You try to take a person and try to get them to their fullest potential, whether they have a disability or not," he said. "I treat the kids all the same. A lot of it has to do with good stroke technique in general and it doesn't matter if you have one arm or two arms."

Mr. Kennedy also has been a coach with the U.S. Paralympics and a swim clinician with the

U.S. Olympic Committee Military Summit.

And he helped coach Sylvania native Beth Riggle, who was born without a right hand and forearm, to gold and bronze medals in the 2004 Paralympics.

Ms. Riggle, 22, recently graduated from the University of Georgia and is applying to medical schools.

Of Mr. Kennedy's award, she said, "You never necessarily expect it, but I wouldn't say it surprised me because he has done a lot with the sport."

She said Mr. Kennedy did a lot for her when she swam with GTAC and he traveled with her to competitions. He really embraced the paralympic sport, she said.

And he was a good motivator for her to pursue her goals and keep the focus on the big picture, constantly reminding her why she was in the pool so early in the morning and putting in long hours, Ms. Riggle said.

"After a while he got to know the days he couldn't push me and would back off a little bit," she said. "But when I needed him he was there to say, 'You can do it.'•"

Contact Meghan

Gilbert-Cunningham at

or 419-724-6134.

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