"When I'm swimming, I feel normal."
That's the first thing we hear from Mikey McQuay, a boy with autism who swims for the Jersey Hammerheads. And so begins director Lara Stolman's documentary, SWIM TEAM, a touching account of the struggles and achievements of a swim team in Perthy Amboy, NJ, comprised of kids with autism. Coach Mike McQuay (the previously mentioned Mikey's father) and his wife, Maria, started the team when they realized how important a skill like swimming can be for those with autism - not only in emergency scenarios, but also to fuel the kids' passion and sense of accomplishment.
The story closely follows three athletes - Mikey, a senior in high school who loves animals and is going to graduate from high school soon; Robbie Justino, a boy who thrives in the water and with leadership but doesn't know yet that he has autism; and Kelvin Truong, who also battles with Tourette's Syndrome -- physical and vocal tics that interfere with his everyday life -- and anger management tied in with the frustration of not being able to control these tics.
The documentary is a beautiful chronicle of these boys' lives. With a condition like autism, it is common for these teenagers to feel like outcasts, but the team brings them together and encourages them that they can achieve what they want to. And not only is the team an encouragement to its teammates, but it is also a source of hope, for the community and for those with similar disorders who strive to push themselves in life.
In many documentaries, it can feel like people are trying to force their personality on the camera; in this case, there is none of that. The teammates of the Jersey Hammerheads have no interest in trying to control the way they end up on screen, and that is the beauty of a story like this: in any other case, we would see projections of who they want to be, but here, with a group of kids with developmental disabilities, we see them for who they are. Stolman is not afraid to show the team's losses alongside their victories - there are mistakes made along the way, and discouragements, but the film makes it clear that this isn't about winning - it's about life.
SWIM TEAM is now playing at Midtown Cinema! Don't miss this heartwarming story!