MEDFORD, Ore. – Kaylee Cooper’s routine is just that, routine. After school, she works out on dry land. Then she jumps in the pool for swim practice. Then, in meets, she dominates the competition. It’s the life of an elite swimmer.
“It fills her time, said Karen Cooper, Kaylee’s mom. “Without it, when she doesn’t swim, I think she doesn’t know what to do with her time.”
“I love it because I’ve been doing it for ten years, and it’s the only thing I’m good at,” said Kaylee.
Kaylee initially started swimming to be like her older sister and she quickly exceeded all expectations, despite the odds stacked against her. When she was three years old, she still wasn’t talking. Her parents suspected something was wrong.
“And then we noticed Kaylee started some signs,” said Karen. “She’d go like this, and I think at her checkup, the doctor was like, ‘She should be talking by now,’ but between four, four and a half, she got some hearing aids, which was like a lightbulb for her.”
Kaylee is hard of hearing, a fact you’d barely notice by watching her swim, but it affects her ability to hear the starting buzzer, the splash of the water and the cheers from the crowd.
“When she went to kindergarten, she was in a deaf and hard of hearing program,” said Karen, “and it was kind of a sign of Kaylee, she…”
“She didn’t want to live with her disability,” said Kaylee’s father Garrett. “She didn’t want to learn to sign. She felt different for the first time.”
“When I was five, it’s just hard for me to talk about it because no one else can understand me,” said Kaylee.
Maybe it’s why she swims.
“Many people don’t swim,” said Kaylee. “It’s like a different sport I guess. Usually people do basketball or volleyball. I chose a different sport.”
“She stands out in swimming so I feel like that’s given her a purpose,” said Karen.
That purpose that extends beyond the pool.
“I just want to influence other girls and other boys that it’s okay if you have a disability,” said Kaylee. “You can still do good in a sport or art or anything.”
“It’s not like the disability slowed her down,” said Garrett. “It kind of sped her up.”
Kaylee hopes to pass that message on.
“You can do anything even with a disability,” said Kaylee. “Just try and try and don’t give up.”
That message is something she hears loud and clear.