Hadassah Benson is a blind student athlete, and is focused on improving in her races

SPOKESMAN PHOTO: TANNER RUSS - Wilsonville sophomore Hadassah Benson is a blind athlete who competes on the Wildcats swim team. Wilsonville's swim team hosts a wide array of solid, dependable athletes that give it their all. As soon as each swimmer hits the water, the goal of performing at their best is first and foremost in their minds.

Hadassah Benson is no different in that regard. The Wilsonville sophomore is competing in her first season of swim for the Wildcats, although she swam for a summer team in The Dalles two summers ago. A competitor in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle races, Benson simply wants to improve her times.

"(I've set) pretty broad goals, like doing better each time," Benson said. "I'm not going super crazy or anything. Just trying to do better."

One thing of note about Benson though is that she is a legally blind athlete. Benson is able to see the black line at the bottom of the pool lane, and thus competes in the freestyle races. The 16-year old was determined not to let her handicap hold her back, and joined swim team to compete alongside her peers in the most unencumbered way possible.

"I really wanted to do a sport that I could kind of blend in well," Benson said. "I wanted to fit in like everybody else, and not stand out. Swimming was good because I could just get in, I didn't need any extra accommodations or anything. I could just do it like everybody else. That's really why I joined it."

And while she may have wanted to "not stand out," Benson also says that she wants to be an example for students with handicaps who want to go out for sports.

"Yeah, I mean that's what I want to do," Benson said. "That's why I wanted to join a sport where I could blend in and fit in with everybody else. I want to show future people with handicaps that you can do sports and blend in and be just as successful as anybody else."

Her decision to join the swim team was one that was also inspired by older brother Christian, who participated on the swim team when he was in high school.

"My brother was in swim team, and he did really well," Benson said. "I grew up knowing what swim team is and having somebody that did fairly well in it. I try to strive to be like him, to be good at swimming."

And Hadassah is making good progress. In her third swim meet, Hadassah knocked an astounding 11.59 seconds off of her 100-yard freestyle time. Part of it was the hard work she has been putting in during practice, part of it…well, part of it was panic.

"My goggles started leaking, and I was freaking out and trying to swim so I could get out of the water and get the water out so I think I would attribute my fast swimming to that," Benson said. "I had to get out and empty my goggles."

When she is not competing, Benson is enjoying tandem bicycle riding, writing, and hiking. But swimming is absolutely something she wants to continue to do going forward. Benson also hopes to place top three at the state meet, where the OSAA has a race for students with handicaps.

For now though, Benson is enjoying her time in the pool. Her teammates have been supportive, her coaches have helped guide her, and her path going forward starts at the starting block.

Wilsonville's next swim meet will be against La Salle at the North Clackamas Aquatic Park on Feb. 2.

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