Two CCHS swimmers bring ‘light’ and ‘smiles’ to the teamMar 07, 2023 04:21PM ● By Catherine Garrett
Corner Canyon High School swimmer Jordan Barlow put his arm around teammate Bryce Armendariz during a recent meet. (Photo courtesy April Lemmon)
The Corner Canyon High swimming team is full of dozens of talented athletes this season. And the program also has two swimmers—sophomore Jordan Barlow, who has Down syndrome, and 14-year-old Bryce Armendariz, who is nonverbal and autistic—both have been fully welcomed and embraced by their teammates in and out of the pool.
“Jordan has fun swimming and is so excited to touch the wall,” said his mom, Mandy Barlow. “He doesn’t love practices, but he loves the races. It’s thrilling for him to hear people cheer and then to be a part of cheering loudly for other people.”
“This is the first thing Bryce has ever accomplished with his peers,” Bryce’s mom April Lemmon said. “The adaptations Corner Canyon has made to make this happen and see the kids and coaches care for him, love him, embrace him and think beyond themselves has been so cool to see. We’re extremely grateful to them.”
CCHS assistant coach and former Chargers swimmer Victoria Blow said, “What these boys have brought to our team is light. The whole team lights up when they walk in. You always know when Jordan and Bryce are swimming because the pool deck is so loud.”
Besides the special needs connection Jordan and Bryce have, they are also both twins to non-disabled swimmers on the Chargers girls team: Sydney, who is a sophomore, is Jordan’s sister, and Kathryn, a freshman, is Bryce’s twin.
Jordan Barlow, the son of Mandy and Justin Barlow of Draper, is an “athletic, big-hugger” 15-year-old, according to his mom, who would love to be on every sports team, especially football and basketball. He comes from a family of swimmers, including older sister Kali, who is a CCHS recordholder and older brother Jaxon. Now, he and Sydney make up four Barlows who have swam for the Chargers.
“Kali worked with Jordan and really taught him how to swim,” Mandy Barlow said. “Last year, he was really excited to swim with his hero Jaxon, but it’s probably even better this season for Jordan to not have two ‘coaches’ with Jaxon now graduated.”
Even though Jordan can swim all the strokes, he competes in the 50 and 100 freestyle events.
“He is fast, but he does tire out and can’t go as long as the others,” Mandy Barlow said. “The first time he realized that he would never win, it was hard, but then it just became a matter of trying to beat his own time.”
The sophomore is actually just two seconds off of the 50 free world record for a swimmer with Down syndrome and is currently trying to be placed on the USA Down syndrome team.
Fellow CCHS swimmer Sam Lillian, a freshman, cultivated a friendship with Jordan that started when they met while attending Draper Park Middle School a few years ago. “I saw Jordan at lunch and felt like I needed to sit by him and talk to him,” Sam said. “The next day, we started hanging out and we became really close. Our relationship has meant a lot to me as we had just moved from Nevada and it was kind of hard. Meeting Jordan was great because I had an immediate friend.”
“Sam is seriously every mom’s answer to prayer to be your kid’s friend,” said Mandy Barlow, who noted that Sam is so much a part of their family that they’ve taken him on vacations with them. “Many kids will say they will call, but Sam follows through and really wants to be his friend. He is encouraging and extra patient and just kind of an old soul.”
“I love Sam,” said Jordan Barlow. “Sam is a good swimmer.”
Jordan and Sam are also more than just their identical swim towels and ponchos they wear at the pool; the duo also team up to film trick shots like bottle flips and stacking cups and have posted nearly 30 spots to their YouTube channel.
“Jordan is an amazing and fun kid,” Sam said. “He can always tell when you’re down and then he always lifts and brightens people’s day. If you have a good swim, he cheers with you; if you don’t, he encourages you.”
Bryce Armendariz, son of Kyle and April Lemmon of Draper, is also from a swimming family beginning with a mom who was a high-level swimmer in Colorado and still swims competitively, and a stepfather who swam in high school in California. Four of his five siblings are involved in swimming—his stepsister Brooklyn is a senior at CCHS but is no longer on the team—with Karalee Lemmon, a freshman, joining Bryce and his twin Kathryn on the squad this year and younger siblings Kaitlyn and Seth also spending a lot of time in the pool.
“Siblings of kids with special needs are champions,” April Lemmon said. “They get put on the back burner a lot, but they just kick in and help without resentment. Our kids do their own thing, but they always have an eye out for their brother. And when others show support to him, it is showing support to them. When you bless Bryce, you bless our whole family and it truly touches our heart.”
With Bryce’s severe autism, he attends school at Autism Behavioral Intervention in Draper where he receives more than 30 hours a week of occupational and physical therapy. Being involved in swimming for nearly 10 years has also been “therapeutic,” according to his mom, who notes that he swims with somewhat of a one-armed freestyle stroke.
When their family moved from Houston, Texas to Draper five years ago, April Lemmon signed Bryce up for a Salt Lake County special needs swim team at Dimple Dell Rec Center where he met coach Victoria Blow, who swam for Corner Canyon from 2013 to 2017. The bond between Bryce and Blow has only deepened with Bryce joining the Chargers squad this season.
“Bryce is really bubbly and giggly and will just jump around with a lot of energy and a smile,” Blow said. “He may not be able to use words, but he does have sounds and he is still able to communicate. He is also a hard worker and just puts his head down and keeps swimming even if he doesn’t want to communicate with you.”
April Lemmon said that Bryce’s inclusion in the CCHS swimming program has exceeded her expectations. “Never once in his life have I ever dropped Bryce off and left him somewhere, but I have been doing that this year, and Bryce has learned the etiquette of the swim team,” she said. “More than anything though, the team is kind and goes above and beyond for him. He is nowhere near as fast as anyone else, but they passionately cheer for him. They also invite him to be a part of the team cheer and even though he will stand just outside of the circle, he does a happy dance with a smile on his face.”
Jordan and Bryce also have a relationship as “Jordan likes to be Bryce’s coach,” according to Mandy Barlow, while April Lemmon said her son Bryce considers Jordan to be his best friend on the team.
“It’s so neat to see how much Jordan and Bryce love and support each other,” said Blow. “Jordan is faster than Bryce, but he will finish and hang on the lane line yelling and encouraging him.”
Blow, who is studying special education at Utah Valley University, said she has seen the Corner Canyon swimmers and coaches rally around Jordan and Bryce. “It is such a selfless, supportive and positive environment even among some very high-level swimmers who are always including them in practice, team dinners and anything else,” she said. “We love it when they come and hope that this type of inclusion can only evolve into other programs locally and on a broader scale.”
Including special needs students in his swimming programs is nothing new to Corner Canyon swim coach Pat Thurman. Aside from Jordan and Bryce, special education student Aaron Dean participated last season as a senior and Thurman welcomed several Down syndrome swimmers when he previously coached at Alta High.
“Pat has a belief that everyone should be able to participate and be able to experience a team while they’re in high school and he has certainly fostered that in his program,” said Sam’s mother Rachel Lillian.
“Jordan, Bryce and Aaron have brought a smile to everyone involved with the program,” Thurman said. “They each have different personalities and different swimming abilities, but they reinforce why anyone should get involved with athletics and that is to find joy. They each get excited for the simplest things, and they cheer the loudest for their siblings and teammates, regardless of the outcome of the race. I always feel better after spending just a little bit of time around any of our special swimmers.”