Wright, a student at West Orange High, swim for both the Warriors' swim team and the Special Olympics of Orange County.
If you had told Henry Wright five years ago that his son Victor would be a competitive swimmer, he probably would have simply looked at you and smiled.
He always believed his 16-year-old son, who has autism and ADHD, could do whatever he put his mind to, but he didn’t know how far that could truly go.
At least, not until this past year.
This year, Victor found freedom and friends in the pool as a member of the West Orange Warriors’ swim team.
“He has that effort — that there’s nothing (he) can’t do,” Henry Wright said. “We don’t know what we are going to do between this offseason and then next year, but what we know is his skills are going to get so much better.
“The effort will not lack, because it’s a reward for him to go be with the kids,” he said. “He just wants to be, as he says, ‘I just want to be with my friends.’ That’s his drive.”
If you ask Victor himself, he’ll give you the simplest reason as to why he loves his sport the way he does.
“Just because I’m part of the team,” Victor said.
And that never-ending drive to be a part of a team — to have friends to be with and lean on — is exactly what drew the attention of West Orange swim coach Cindy Brasch.
Brasch had had Victor as a student, but it wasn’t until a Mac Crutchfield Foundation swim clinic in April at Windermere Prep that she discovered he loved the sport. So, Brasch invited Victor to swim with the JV squad.
She remembers those early days being difficult for him, as he adjusted to longer, more structured practices. He also had to get used to practicing with others.
“When Victor started with us, he had this wild kick,” Brasch said. “A swimmer kicks with their legs together, and Victor’s was out to the side — all over.
“One of my freshman boys, a brand-new swimmer, got kicked, and I go, ‘Ryan are you OK?’ And he goes, ‘Yes, but coach at least he is kicking now,’” she said. “He’s come a long way.”
And when you look at his life, Victor has come a long way — especially over the last decade.
For most of his life Victor had struggled with the sensitivities caused by his Asperger’s syndrome. Unlike most kids, he couldn’t enjoy activities such as going to the theater or taking in a basketball game. He couldn’t even sit in church, because the noise and other stimulants were too much for him.
“When he was probably 6, his sensitivity was so great, we went to a Disney movie, and he was uncomfortable and making a lot of noise, and the manager asked us to leave,” Henry Wright said. “He’s just overcome so much.”
Although it took him years of therapy to help him cope with the booming world around him, few things were more effective than swimming.
As a Floridian, Victor originally was introduced to swimming at age 4 as a measure of safety, but it became more than that. It became a place of solace.
Wright noticed it was so effective as a form of therapy that at their second house, they built a lap pool just for him.
“In a short time, he really gravitated to the water and had no fear,” Henry Wright said. “Every single day, he’d spend time in there, and we knew between that and the ocean, he was a natural.”
“Being with these other kids — from sophomores, juniors and seniors — he is just another cool kid on campus. As the coach said, it’s done as much for them as it has done for Victor.”
— Henry Wright
Since those early days of swimming, Victor has blossomed into the strong swimmer he is today, and it’s even led him to some big wins.
After his first swim season at West Orange — one in which he beat multiple swimmers in his first meet — Victor was named “Most Improved Swimmer” during the school’s banquet.
And when he hasn’t been tearing it up in the pool for the Warriors, Victor is doing big things in the pool for the Special Olympics of Orange County team. At this year’s Special Olympics State Swimming games in Vero Beach, Victor swam his way to a bronze medal.
Although winning medals is fun, when it comes to swimming, Victor said the best prize is being a part of the team.
“They protect each other, they look out for each other — it’s a pretty cool team, because that’s just what they do,” Brasch said. “It makes me very proud as a coach to have my extended swim family be that supportive of one another.”
And for Henry Wright, seeing his son get (and give) that kind of support is all he could ask for as a dad.
“Being with these other kids — from sophomores, juniors and seniors — he is just another cool kid on campus,” he said. “As the coach said, it’s done as much for them as it has done for Victor.”