Jan. 25, 2008
Baltimore, Md. - Loyola freshman Phil Scholz is now featured in an article published by ESPN.com. The Greyhound swimmer is blind and an American record-holder in 11 events at the S11 category. His story, told by Loyola junior Matt Kiebus, can be found by clicking on ESPN Feature.
Excerpts from article
He jumps off the starting block and hits the water hard. He begins counting his strokes, while paying careful attention so as not to mangle his right hand on the lane line. He approaches the wall and effortlessly executes a flip turn.
He takes a breath and repeats.
An unsuspecting onlooker wouldn't think Phil Scholz was out of place practicing with his teammates from Loyola College in Maryland's Division I swim team.
But upon closer inspection, it's clear he's in a whole different league.No other swimmer brings his dog to practice. Scholz brings his 2½_year-old yellow Labrador, Taxi, with him every day. They travel all over campus together -- because Scholz is blind and Taxi is his guide dog.
Even with his visual impairment, Scholz is a full-fledged member of the Loyola Greyhounds swim team. He is a freshman walk-on this season. His coach, Brian Loeffler, hadn't seen Scholz swim before he arrived on this small Baltimore campus.
But in Scholz's first meet, on Dec. 1, he set eight American Paralympic records. Since then, he has set three more and was named the Division I swimmer of the week for the second week in December. He now owns 11 American Paralympic records and has his sights set on competing in the Paralympics this September in Beijing.
The U.S. Paralympics swimming trials will be held April 3-5 at the University of Minnesota. Swimmers that achieve times ranked in the top 3 in the world rankings earn automatic berths on the United States Parlympic team. Currently, Scholz ranks fifth in the world in the 400-meter freestyle and seventh in the world in the 100-meter butterfly.
According to the Paralympics Committee, for purposes of rankings and fairness, disabled athletes are separated into categories or divisions, similar to how boxers and wrestlers are separated into weight classes. There are six major classifications: amputee, cerebral palsy, visual impairment, spinal cord injuries and intellectual disability. Inside these classifications are categories that further describe the degree to which the athletes are disabled. Scholz is in the S-11 category for athletes who are completely blind.
Scholz captures the attention of nearly everyone he meets. One of his fans is U.S. Olympian and world-record holder Katie Hoff, who trains just down the road from Loyola with the North Baltimore Aquatic Club and is considered one of the top American Olympic hopefuls for Beijing. She has many friends on the Loyola swim team but didn't know of Scholz until a reporter mentioned him to her. She was astounded.
"My coach sometimes gives me drills where I swim for 20 seconds with my eyes closed, and I end up going in every direction," Hoff said. "It's really inspiring. I'm worried about swimming fast, and he's worried about hitting the wall."