▶ Watch Video: Swim lessons change lives of people with special needs

On the surface, they’re just swim lessons. But in each lane of one pool, a life is changing thanks to the Nashville Dolphins program. 

Laura Marshall says her 18-year-old son Grant is non-verbal and severely autistic. But in the water, he’s an athlete tasting success. “It’s just something you never thought would happen, and it’s happening,” Marshall said. 

The program, which started in 2003, helps people learn to swim — both for fun and competitively. More than 230 swimmers participate in the programming and over 100 volunteers teach for free, helping families who are often financially burdened with medical expenses.

Brenda Vroon, who runs the program, said they teach the swimmers they can overcome their adversities. “We tell them they can and we know they can,” she said. “Just to see the things that they can do, it’s really amazing.” 

The Nashville Dolphins has nearly 90 swimmers who will be competing in the Special Olympics this year. 

Swimmers take lessons as part of the Nashville Dolphins program. 

Handout / Nashville Dolphins

For swimmers like Grant, it’s an experience for which there is no price. Grant started attending lessons when he was 8 years old. His older brother, Ian, swims for Southern Illinois University. “He just loves it,” Marshall said of her younger son. 

“It gives them a sense of normalcy. It gives them peers and friends,” Vroon said. “It gives me joy.”