Special Olympics swimmer Owen Ostergard joins WHS swim team

Owen Ostergard ‘22 becomes the only person with Down syndrome to join the WHS varsity swim team.

Ostergard first gained interest in the sport back when he was a child after first seeing world–renowned Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps swim.

“It started out way back in 2012,” said Ostergard. “I heard that Michael Phelps was a very good swimmer, and I started watching him a lot. Then, in 2013, I picked it up and that’s how [I got into the sport].”

Ostergard previously swam in the Special Olympics with the Pasadena Ducks, where he found success and was able to build a reputation for himself, winning many races and medals in the process.

“He swam for the Pasadena Ducks, a team under the Special Olympics umbrella,” said Owen’s mother Suzanne Lezotte. “In his first race, he won a gold medal in the freestyle. From then on, he swam twice a week at practice and had a tournament about once a month. He had racked up probably over 30 medals in gold, silver and a few bronzes.”

During his time in the Special Olympics, Ostergard was invited to swim at the Longbeach summer games three times, where Special Olympic teams send their best swimmers to compete against teams all over southern California.

Ostergard was initially encouraged to try out for the WHS swim team by TeLana Burns, his Learning Essentials Academic Program teacher, after he showed her videos of him swimming in the Special Olympics.

“Him knowing that I was a [swim] coach allowed us to have that instant connection with each other,” said Burns. “After he showed me some footage of himself swimming in the Special Olympics, I just thought that he had what it takes to be on the swim team. It was absolutely amazing.”

Burns was a former WHS water polo coach and head swim coach for over six years. She has swum competitively since she was five–years–old all the way to the Junior Olympics. Along with being his LEAP teacher,  Burns plays a major role in mentoring Ostergard inside the pool.

“He had never taken a dive off the blocks before,” said Burns. “I taught him how to do that, and he’s improving every single day. He had never done a flip turn before, so I got into the pool and it took me less than an hour to teach him how to do flip turns.”

Ostergard does not let Down syndrome stop him from doing what he loves and accomplishing his goals.

“He swam a few weeks ago against Calabasas,” said Lezotte. “He got onto [the] block concentrated and determined, dove [into the pool] and swam his race. Even though he came in last place out of the swimmers, he still came out of the pool and said ‘I did well mom.’ That is something that I think we all can learn from in that it is about what’s your personal best and giving it your all.”