At 7, Kyle Visser was afraid to get into a pool.
Nineteen years later, he is on top of the world as a swimmer.
Kyle won a gold, a silver and a bronze medal, and received a fifth-place participation ribbon, at the Special Olympics World Games last month in Abu Dhabi.
The very special Olympian joins Amy Van Dyken and Missy Franklin as the most successful Colorado swimming champions at the highest level of their international competitions.
“I’m very honored to represent Special Olympics Colorado and the United States of America at the World Games,’’ the humble young man from Parker, who wears a radiating permanent smile, told me Tuesday. “It was a lot of fun swimming, and I enjoyed meeting athletes from all over the world.’’
Also, on Tuesday, he was celebrating World Autism Awareness Day.
When Kyle was a youngster, he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, a neurological development condition exemplified by challenging issues with communication, social skills and repetitive behavior.
Approximately 1 in 59 boys and girls in the U.S. are affected by autistic traits.
Kyle doesn’t suffer with autism. He flourishes with it. Visser is not disabled. He’s more able and smarter than most athletes and people.
He spends so much time in the water Kyle could be a real-life Aquaman.
The son of Dan and Dianne Visser and older brother to Kendell also rises.
Out of darkness comes light.
As a youngster Kyle was shy and uncommunicative. His parents tired to get him interested in swimming by enlisting the assistance of two Special Olympics volunteers.
“It took three years for me to swim,’’ he says. “Then I learned all the strokes.’’
At Cherokee Trail High School in Aurora, he unpretentiously acknowledges, Kyle earned “four swimming team letters.’’ After winning events in local, state and regional meets and medals for years, he qualified for the national Special Olympics Games in Seattle in 2018. He brought home gold and silver.
Hired by Special Olympics Colorado as an office assistant in 2012, he since has been promoted to competition assistant.
Kyle was selected to the U.S. team for the World Summer Games in the capital of the United Arab Emirates (March 14-21). More than 7,000 athletes from 190 countries participated. The opening and closing ceremonies and daily events were shown on ESPN.
Kyle was one of only two athletes from Colorado. Englewood’s Jeremy MacLeod was scheduled for several races, but, shortly after his bronze-medal performance in the 5K timed trials, he was shut down by a serious cold that spread through the U.S. contingent.
Visser became extremely ill, and team trainers and doctors recommended he not compete. Kyle didn’t want to disappoint his teammates and coaches, and his family who had flown to the Middle East.
“He doesn’t like to discuss his sickness, but he pushed through it,’’ said Lexie Vean, vice president of marketing and communications for Special Olympics Colorado. “He’s has the best sportsmanship and is the first to congratulate others because he’s just as happy for them as he is when he wins.’’
Kyle finished fifth in the 400-meter freestyle and second with the U.S. 4X100 relay team. He also was awarded a bronze medal and, on March 17, swam the gold standard in the 200-meter freestyle and stood on the podium to receive his medal. He also was close in the 100-meter individual medley.
I asked about his next objective. “I want to go back to the national Games (in Orlando in 2022), and I hope I can be in (Berlin) Germany in 2023 for the World Games.’’
Just days after returning to Colorado, Kyle and everyone else heard Secretary of Education Betty DeVos inform Congress that the $17.6 million proposed expenditure for Special Olympics would be cut out in this year’s budget. The national outcry and outrage led President Trump to announce the funding would be restored.
Out of darkness comes light.
“Special Olympics is getting more attention and response than ever,’’ Vean said. “Donations, sponsors, volunteers, new athletes joining our programs. The reaction has been incredibly positive. People have discovered Special Olympics is a lot more than disabled kids playing sports. We work with 335 schools in Colorado focusing on the importance of acceptance, awareness and inclusion in the classroom and on the sports field.’’
Kyle spoke up: “There should be friendship, respect and inclusion, stop the bullying and not use the ‘r’ word.’’
In his unceasing talks with children, Kyle tells them “to be successful, you work hard all year, keep trying and have fun.’’
And don’t be afraid to jump in the water.