Parkland High junior Jacob Parry (right), who is deaf, works with other swimmers in the Parkland Swim Club's Learn-To-Swim Club by using American Sign Language.

Parkland High junior Jacob Parry (right), who is deaf, works with other swimmers in the Parkland Swim Club’s Learn-To-Swim Club by using American Sign Language. (Keith Groller / The Morning Call)

Since its opening in 1999, the swimming pool at Parkland High School has been a place where so many league, District 11 and state champions were nurtured.

Parkland has produced more than its share of outstanding swimmers whose names are placed on the natatorium walls.

Jacob Parry may never have his name placed on Parkland’s wall of honor, but he is a champion in the game of life.

He is more than just a talented, dedicated and hard-working swimmer. In coaching others, he has become a role model and an inspiration.

Parry, a Parkland High junior, is deaf.

Yet, that hasn’t stopped him from earning his way on to the roster of one of the most successful swimming programs in the state and qualifying for districts as a freshman and sophomore.

Parkland High swimmer Jacob Parry is deaf, but inspires others by swimming successfully and teaching others through sign language.

Parkland High swimmer Jacob Parry is deaf, but inspires others by swimming successfully and teaching others through sign language. (Keith Groller / The Morning Call)

As impressive as his own swimming career has been, Parry is expanding his impact on the sport by working with younger kids, including several who have to overcome the same obstacle as him.

In his first year as a swimming instructor, Parry has quickly come to love showing his students they can be just like him and not allow any disability to stop them from achieving their dreams.

“I know what these kids are feeling,” Parry said through his interpreter, Pauline Griffith. “I was in the same situation as them, had the same struggles, so I have a special connection with them. My goal is to help them get past their limits and improve. It’s great for me to see them achieve something on their own, knowing that I helped them do it.”

A new opportunity

Mary Kay Krause has been a JV coach with the Parkland High program since 2017 and has also spent two years with the Parkland Swim Club.

Last year, she began PSC’s Learn-To-Swim, or LTS, program.

This year, she sent out an email to all of the high school swimmers seeking instructors for the LTS fall session.

Parry’s mother, Denise Parry, responded to Krause’s email and said her son would love to teach but feared he wouldn’t qualify because he couldn’t hear.

“It didn’t take me long to jump on the opportunity,” Krause said. “I thought Jacob could teach a class of other deaf children using American Sign Language. We started to work together to figure out how it could happen.”

Another swimmer who is learning ASL, Isabel Sheridan, also got involved as an instructor.

“We had two ASL instructors and just had to find students,” Krause said. “We got the word out through a variety of organizations with help from Maia Geiger, who is a social worker for the Carbon-Lehigh Intermediate Unit. We found kids who wanted to get involved. This is how Jacob became an instructor.”

“He always loved the water,” his mom said. “We eventually took him to Cedar Crest College to learn the basics. That’s when I realized there was a challenge to find teachers who could teach deaf kids because we couldn’t find instructors who knew ASL or were deaf. I worked with the instructor to use gestures to demonstrate what they wanted to him to do so he could learn.”

Parry played baseball until eighth grade.

“He said he wanted to swim,” said Denise Parry, who is also deaf. “He never did swim leagues because he was involved with baseball. So I asked around and we eventually got him into the Parkland Swim Club. We got him in events and summer league and he just kept improving. We are so grateful for the club, coaches, interpreters for working together to help Jacob improve since he had such a late start in the swim world.”

It was not always easy.

Communication has always been a struggle. While he had interpreters, coaches had to be patient. His mom said Jacob is often made fun of for not being able to hear and sometimes is excluded from social outings, but she added: “A few of the kids are awesome with him.”

Now the students he teaches consider Parry to be awesome.

“He loves coaching and is good with the kids,” his mom said. “One of the students has autism, so there are additional challenges, but they make it work. The parents love the program and they love Jacob. They are so happy to have instructors who know ASL.”

A role model

Parry’s smile around the pool is infectious.

The young kids in his Learn-To-Swim program gravitate toward him and enjoy being around him. Some parents have said swim night is their favorite night of the week because of Parry.

“Jacob is very humble and has overcome lots of hardships, but you would never know it by the smile on his face at practice,” Krause said. “He is always ready to learn and that desire he shares with others.”

Parry said he thought about becoming an instructor for a long time, but didn’t know if it would happen because of his disability.

“I enjoy it very much,” he said. “I like to show other people that I can do what other hearing people can do, even though I am deaf. I want to show them I am still able to participate and achieve.”

He said he hasn’t thought about being a role model or inspiration, but he knows the kids “are excited to see me and want to learn from me. I realize they do look up to me and I don’t want to let them down. I want them to be successful, too, and keep going.”

Parry gave special thanks to Krause for giving him a chance and for also securing a donation from Krause Toyota and the Krause Toyota Match program to purchase new starting blocks for the upcoming season. The new blocks will have lights to assist Jacob and others like him because it will allow them to see the starting buzzer rather than struggling to hear it.

“[He will be] on a slightly more level playing field and it will be exciting to see this adaptation for him,” Krause said.

Words of wisdom

Parry is a good student who wants to attend the Rochester Institute of Technology and work on technology for deaf and hearing people with hopes of becoming a manufacturing design engineer.

But for now, he enjoys working with kids and helping them overcome the obstacles he has overcome. While making himself into the best swimmer he can be, he’s also helping kids become their best.

“It’s an amazing thrill when you accomplish something when you didn’t expect to accomplish,” he said. “I want people to stop underestimating people with handicaps. Don’t expect them to do a horrible job because they don’t have what you have. Don’t assume the worst of a person with a disability. Don’t judge them by how they look … judge them by how they do, how they perform and who they are.”