Bryan Henry has one speed in the pool: fast. Part of it is thanks to natural talent, but the 25-year-old certainly puts in the work to stay fast. Henry swims year-round with the Raleigh Area Masters, but it’s his speed in the Special Olympics pool that has him taking his talents to new places.
In March 2019, Henry will join more than 300 members of Special Olympics USA at the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi, where he will compete in swimming. For someone who only took his first plane ride in July, that’s quite the journey.
But for Henry, this journey started more than 15 years ago when he first began swimming with Special Olympics North Carolina. The then middle schooler may not have had many medals or ribbons to his name, but he had the most important thing an athlete needs: heart.
“From the first time I saw Bryan swim over 10 years ago I remember thinking ‘Wow, he is a great swimmer’. As he has gotten older, taller and stronger, it has just confirmed that he was born to swim like a fish. Each year Bryan has worked outside Special Olympics to get better in the sport by competing with his high school and then practicing and competing with the Masters swim program. His dedication to training and listening to suggestions by his coaches has made him the excellent swimmer that he is today,” shared Chris Underwood, Henry’s Special Olympics swim coach.
That work ethic, coupled with a strong sense of sportsmanship and an outgoing personality makes Henry very popular at events!
“What sticks in my mind is how he interacts with athletes when he does not come in first during an event. Immediately after the event, he is congratulating the winner with a smile, handshake and sometimes even a hug. I have used him as an example of how all athletes should act. That kind of joy is contagious,” continued Underwood.
“He is my social outlet. I mean all of my kids are social, but he’s never met a stranger so I meet lots of people too!” added Henry’s mom, Melissa.
For Henry, meeting new people and turning them into lifelong friends is the highlight of his Special Olympics experience.
“I love making new friends and competing in sports so Special Olympics is perfect for me. Swimming gives me strength, power and exercise. It makes me feel really confident in my life,” said Henry.
That confidence impresses all who know him.
“He astounds me every day. I’m amazed at what he can do and where he’s going. He’s really passed every boundary I ever thought possible. I never thought I’d be following him to Abu Dhabi for a World Games. He’s accomplished so much,” said Melissa.
Those accomplishments decorate an ever-expanding portion of the walls of his room.
“I have a lot of gold medals! I get in the water and leave it all in the pool, swimming as fast as I can,” said Henry.
Swimming as fast as he can has taken Bryan Henry to the other side of the country, and now, the other side of the world to compete in the sport he loves, where he’ll make a few new friends and hopefully add to his medal count.