For Unified Boy’s Swim Coach, Diane Petkoff, everything is about the smiles. “I do everything I do for those happy faces,” said the Pueblo West High Security Guard in her office, pointing at a picture on the wall of four boys, each of them grinning from ear to ear.
These four boys were the start to a program that has almost doubled in size since it’s creation, with 2018’s unified team consisting of seven members. “The growth has been the best part,” said Petkoff, “It’s through the support of people like [Pueblo West High School Athletic Director] Jamie Wagoner, and Jennifer Alfonso, who’s the Special Education Director for District 70, that we can even have a program like this.”
Athletes; Taylor Salisburg, Isaiah Piazza, Nathanial Gonzalez, Eddie Weiger, Rylee Santisteven, Tony Taibi, and Jaeden Wagers, are all students at Pueblo West High School, and in every picture, share the same huge, toothy, grins as the four in the oldest picture hanging on the office wall. Taibi, the most social of the group, was quick in stating, “I love swimming! It’s my favorite time of year.”
The importance of unified teams like the swim team at Pueblo West is simply that; the love of the sport. “Every year, it amazes me how happy the boys are just to get in and swim. It’s not for glory, it’s not for time. Their goals are small; completing a 50 yard swim without help, or swimming without a floatation belt,” said Petkoff.
Practices with the team are relatively short, a 45 minute session once a week on Monday’s at the local regional pool, where the team practices alongside instructors from the Cyclone’s varsity girl’s swim team; Keely Fisher, Zoi Langreder, Maddie Derting, Brooke Holdredge, Isabell Osborne, Portia Roybal, Kylee Lamas, and Brooklyn Phillips. The boys work on improving their swimming abilities, gradually moving up to the ultimate goal; swimming a 50 yard freestyle without any help.
Salisbury, Piazza, and Santisteven all have accomplished this goal, with Salisbury even being able to compete at varsity meets in non-exposition events. Gonzales, Wagers, and Weiger all use a belt but can swim unasisted. Taibi, had, until the meet vs. Cenntenial during the 2018 season, had needed a belt and a second swimmer in the water to assist. However, at this duel, a duel like any other for most swimmers, Taibi kicked a 50 by himself.
“It felt really good, I’m glad I could do it by myself,” said Taibi after his event, overjoyed with the fact he made it across the pool and all the way back without assistance.
Petkoff mentioned, “We’re working with Tony to get him into the shape to swim at state completely without Brook’s help.” The Team will be continuing work for the rest of the season, working up to a swim at the CHSAA 4A state championship meet before the finals of the 50 freestyle, as well as the SCL league championships.
“I’m just glad to be doing this work,” said Petkoff, “The cheers at state, and the smiles whenever they get to practice or out of the pool, it warms my heart.”