When doctors told Michael and Maria McQuay that their son with autism would never be self-sufficient, the pair responded by seeking out a series of therapies and programs for him. After discovering there was a dearth of suitable public services, they formed their own swim team for children with developmental disabilities. "So many people don't give our kids a chance to do anything," says Maria.
Lara Stolman's inspiring debut documentary, Swim Team, follows three diverse young men -- Michael McQuay Jr., Robert Justino and Kelvin Truong -- from Perth Amboy, New Jersey, who fall on the autism spectrum. New Jersey reports the highest rate of autism in the country, with one in 26 boys on the spectrum. On the McQuays' team, the Jersey Hammerheads, these young men find inclusion, independence and space to achieve their loftiest goals.
At its heart, the eye-opening film Swim Team chronicles the hard work and dedication the Hammerheads undertake to make life work in, and out, of the swimming pool. Justino dreams of making video games, despite predictions from his teachers that store clerking will be the only job available to him. Truong, who also has Tourette's syndrome, struggles with controlling verbal and physical outbursts.
Compassionate and perceptive, filmmaker Stolman also manages to capture the parents' hopes and frustrations. As Truong's mother shows the holes that Truong has made in the walls at home, she maintains a smile, though her voice quavers at times. Stolman makes clear that the parents face financial burdens, compounded by an underfunded public school system ill-equipped to support special-needs children and young adults.
The Jersey Hammerheads rack up medals and eventually make it to the state Summer Games at the Special Olympics. One member of the team even goes on to compete in the national Special Olympics games.
The Hammerheads feel most comfortable in the pool's fast lane. "When I'm swimming," says Michael McQuay Jr., "I feel normal."
"With the Hammerheads families, I found a group of parents who refused to take no for an answer," said Stolman. "They were saying yes, and as a community it was galvanizing for them. As a mother, I was so personally inspired by what they hoped to accomplish; I knew I had to share their story. I hope my film provides inspiration for families everywhere raising children with unanticipated challenges."