A passionate swimmer from Stratford is the newest member of the Canadian Down Syndrome Swim Team.
Amiera Black, 16, is looking to add to another gold medal to her collection when she competes at the 10th World Down Syndrome Swimming Championships in Albufeira, Portugal in October. The Canadian Down Syndrome Swimming Association asked her to join the swim team in December 2021.Â
The first thing Ameira said when asked how she felt going to the World Down Syndrome Swimming Championships was â€śHappy,â€ť before adding she was a bit nervous.Â
The St. Michaelâ€™s Catholic Secondary School student currently swims with the Wilmot Aquatic Aces and competes as a Special Olympics Ontario swimmer and a Swim Ontario para swimmer. Amieraâ€™s collected several medals, including six gold medals obtained from the Ontario Festival Championships when she was in the under 12 swimming division.Â
â€śShe really likes those ones,â€ť her mother, Jennifer Black said. â€śThose are the ones she shows the most.â€ť
Ameira earned more medals during the Western Ontario Regional Championships in the Mixed Para events in early June. She competed against men and women between the ages of 16-to-22-years-old. Ameira, who was youngest swimmer of the group, earned three bronze medals and one silver medal. Â
When asked why she loves to swim, Ameira said she enjoys learning the different strokes and swimming techniques. Before the interview, she was at swim practice working on her whip kick and breast stroke techniques.Â
â€śMy favourite stroke is butterfly,â€ť she said.Â
Ameira is at swim practice at least four times a week and she also has dryland practices and goes for walks.Â
Swimming since the beginning
Ameiraâ€™s been swimming from the time she was five-months-old, and swimming competitively from the time she was six-years-old. Jennifer said that she put Ameira and her two siblings into swimming lessons at a young age. The family is originally from Goderich and they were living near Lake Huron at the time and Jennifer wanted her children to be safe around the water. Amieraâ€™s older brother began swimming competitively and she wanted to do the same.
Black swam on an able-bodied team when she first began swimming competitively. She first competed with other para swimmers when moving to Stratford and began swimming for the Wilmot Aquatic Aces.Â
"She still swims against able-bodied swimmers most of the time, but then we also swim with the Special Olympics. The team also made sure she had her classification to be classified as a para swimmer,â€ť Jennifer said. â€śThat gave us a different group of people to swim with as well.â€ť
Training during the COVID-19 Pandemic
At the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic, all sports were put on hold. When COVID-19 shut down facilities like swimming pools, Ameira and Jennifer went for walks to keep up endurance, making walking challenges and playing music for Ameira to stay motivated. Jennifer also found a virtual walking program that awarded medals and her daughter also enjoyed that.Â
During the summer, Ameira swam in outdoor pools, in a family friendâ€™s quarry and at Lake Huron.
â€śBeing away from the pool and being away from our coaches was hard. We tried to do our best to do what we could from home,â€ť Jennifer said.Â
Along with swimming, what else does Ameira like to do?
When not swimming, Ameira enjoys spending time engaging in her hobbies.Â
â€śI like to colour, and I like to walk sometimes, and spending time with family and friends,â€ť she said.
Ameira also loves to watch TV and movies, particularly The Flash. The Ontario Para Swimming team encouraged her and the rest of the athletes to come up with a persona as they swim. Amiera becomes Aqua Flash when she swims, named after the superhero from her favourite show and for her speedy swims.
Fundraising for every part of attending the World Down Syndrome Championships
As the Canadian Down Syndrome Swim team lacks funding, each athlete has to do their own fundraising for the upcoming World swimming championships. Ameira and her family are looking to raise $20,000 before the fall. The money covers travel expenses, accommodations, food, event fees, two new race suits and team apparel, three coaches and a translator. The fundraiser would also cover Ameiraâ€™s summer training needed leading up to the event.
â€śWe have extra pool time and coaching costs through the summer to keep her in shape and ready to go for October,â€ť Jennifer said. â€śNormally, we just start back at the end of September.â€ťÂ
The GoFundMe page alone raised $8,387 as of June 6. The Facebook page Help Ameira Get to the World Down Syndrome Swimming Championships posts about the progress and other fundraisers.Â A garage sale on Victoria Day weekend raised more than $3,800, with a subsequent bottle drive collecting $638.
An online auction fundraiser is open until June 17 with a variety of items including Theatre Woodstock tickets, a gift card for Goderichâ€™s Elizabethâ€™s Art Gallery, and a Rheo Thompson goodie basket.Â
In a follow-up with the Stratford Times, Jennifer said that the family reached nearly 75 per cent of the fundraising goal so far.Â
Jennifer said that the support from the Stratford community has been great and people and businesses have been generous with their donations. Although the family lives in Stratford, they are not there often because they are out of town for swimming practice.Â
â€śWe have our roots are in Goderich area. We moved to Chatham and Blenheim, so we have swim family there, and now we're in Stratford and I love Stratford and the community has really stepped up for us, especially considering we're not there that often,â€ť Jennifer said.Â
If the fundraiser collects more than $20,000, the surplus will support other athletes on the Canadian Down Syndrome Swim Team and their families.Â
In a follow-up with the Stratford Times, Ameira listed the many things sheâ€™s looking forward to during the World Down Syndrome Swimming Championships.
â€śBeing part of the Canadian Womenâ€™s Relay team, making new friends, wearing my new RED race suit,â€ť she said via email. â€śI will try my best to get PBs (personal best times) and maybe win some medals!â€ť
Before she heads to the global competition, Ameira will head to the Ontario Provincial Championships from July 7-10 in Windsor, Ont.Â
To donate to Ameiraâ€™s GoFundMe page, visit gofundme.com/f/get-amiera-to-the-world-ds-swimming-championships?utm_campaign=p_lico+share-sheet&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_source=customer. Visit https://app.galabid.com/amieraswims/items to participate in the online auction. Ameiraâ€™s journey can be followed on Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram via @ameirawims.Â
Ameira Black with mother Jennifer Black