boys swimming

Conn. swimmer with autism an inspiration

A Connecticut teenager is overcoming great odds to take part in the sport he loves.

Max Berger, a senior at Ridgefield (Conn.), was diagnosed with severe autism when he was 2 years old. According to the Ridgefield Press, Berger has limited verbal and motor skills, is sensitive to sensory stimulus, and has difficulty with extended concentration.

And through all that, he is a member of the Ridgefield swim team. As the Ridgefield Press reports, Berger’s parents got him involved when he was younger with Swim Angelfish, an aquatic program for children with special needs. The program is a combination of swim lessons and physical therapy.

“He took to it right away,” Max’s mother, Shira, told the Press. “He loves the water. It calms him down.”

It wasn’t until last year, though, that Shira approached Ridgefield school officials about her son joining the swim team. Sure enough, a spot was made for Berger.

“Right away, he became the spirit of the team,” Ridgefield head coach Emmanuel Lanzo told the Press. “He has great energy; everyone loves Max.”

Berger’s journey got even more trying, however, last spring when he was diagnosed with stage two Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system.

With tumors in his chest and neck, he went through four rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, Shira Berger told the Press. By December, tests showed no signs of cancer. And with that clearance, Max returned to the pool.

He competes in exhibition heats of the 50-meter freestyle.

“It’s really an overwhelming feeling for a parent,” Shira Berger told the Press. “He’s up against so much, and everything is so difficult for him. But in this little microcosm of swimming he’s accepted. He’s a part of something.”