Brandon's journey to the Olympics

Brandon Frattarelli and "Ms. Erin" get ready before the 15 meter competition at the 2015 Special Olympics. 

Brandon Frattarelli and "Ms. Erin" get ready before the 15 meter competition at the 2015 Special Olympics. 

Brandon Frattarelli always loved the water, but despite years of private swimming lessons, he wasn't making any progress. Born with autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Brandon struggled with mastering a proper flutter kick and traditional freestyle. He also dealt with a revolving door of coaches, who would revert back to basics.

Brandon is now 11 years old and a student at Maunawili Elementary School. He has tried many sports, including soccer, track & field, and bowling, but he was always drawn back to the water.

When his mother, LeighAnn, discovered swimming lessons at Kokokahi YWCA in 2013, she called it a "blessing." She was referred to "Ms. Erin," who leads the Adaptive Swim classes in Kokokahi's heated pool and recently returned from coaching children at the Special Olympics.

"I never would've believed my son could swim down the pool and back," LeighAnn said. “It used to be so scary because he would just want to be in the water all the time, but he couldn’t take a breath and he was in swimming lessons consistently since he was four years old."

While working with Brandon, Erin recognized that he was excelling at the frog kick, a skill that is normally taught in the more advanced classes. She adapted her teaching method to focus on the breaststroke and ever since then Brandon has learned to swim confidently and proficiently on his own.

“Erin was seeing what he was good at and maximizing what he’s good at, as well as working on his weaknesses,” LeighAnn said. “I think you can’t do that if you’re getting a different teacher every four weeks or six weeks.”

At the 2015 Special Olympics, Brandon won a silver medal in the 15-meter race, and this year he is more than doubling that distance. He currently practices three times a week at Kokokahi YWCA—twice a week with the Special Olympics team and once a week as part of his year-round private lessons.

“I think he became much, much more confident in the water and I never really saw him compete before, but he really responds well to competition,” LeighAnn said. “It gives him confidence as a person and it pushes him to do better.”

“I think now that he’s in his second year, he kind of feels like he’s a little bit of a leader, you know? He knows everybody’s names and he knows what event everybody’s doing, and keeps an eye on them,” LeighAnn added. “He likes to make sure he watches them all do their events and gives them high-fives after they get their ribbons.”

On April 23, Brandon earned first place in the 25-meter and sixth in the 50-meter races to qualify for the Special Olympics. Follow Brandon's story on YWwire as he swims for gold at the Summer Games from June 3-5.