Athletics News

S & R Sport Athlete Of The Month - July 2013 - Eli Lew

Eli Lew is the S & R Sport Athlete of the Month for July 2013

July 22, 2013

The winner of the S & R Sport Athlete of the Month for July 2013 is Eli Lew of Northwood Water Polo Club. Here is his nomination from his dad. To nominate an athlete you think is worthy email For winning, Eli will receive a $50 gift certificate to

I would like to nominate my son, Eli Lew, for athlete of the month. He plays for the 16 and under club team Northwood and soon will be starting 9th grade at Orange Lutheran High School . Eli has been playing club waterpolo since age 10. He has competed in numerous tournaments, has not taken a season off since he started, and has been selected on an all tournament team (3rd team). He has competed and played key portions of pretty high intensity games in the top skill level of tournaments, and we have gone as far as Michigan for a tournament.

Eli was diagnosed with moderate autism when he was 3 years old. We were told he may never speak well, be in typical school, or ever live independently. 

After returning from school each day, Eli would start pretty grueling sessions with specialists in autism. While most kids will learn many things naturally, Eli had to learn basically everything through a particular program or set of structured steps. He basically put in college-type hours as a toddler and child. His progress was tremendous and he was noted to be labeled one of the best case outcomes ever for a particular internationally known program for children with autism. He went from us being told that he may never speak coherently and perhaps be eventually placed in a special setting, to now being fully independent in a typical school, where he is an Honors' Student.

Eli struggled with team sports when he was younger, as he has takes just a bit longer to process things that are happening around him which affects what he can learn and how he plays in games. Physically, he is fairly gifted, but the emotional and intellectual demands of the game may take longer for him to process which can slow him down in the game. This can be very frustrating for him. We found that he enjoyed swimming when he was about 7 or 8, so we put him in swim lessons. One day the swim school had a swim meet, so we entered him in the 25 yard freestyle. At that time, he was still struggling with autism, and I had never seen him able to really compete in anything. I asked him to hop in and warm up. Right away, I thought, "wow, it looks like he has a really fast stroke". Sure enough, he got up on that block, dove off, and won the race.

Two years or so later, I put him in the beginnings of something similar to the splash ball program. I can't say the waterpolo went easy, as there were many unknowns and new environments and activities which are always very difficult with children with autism. To negotiate all the social interactions and cues between countless kids and coaches and games and scrimmages is extremely challenging for children and adolescents with autism. One real difficult part of autism, is the kids look physically normal, so when their behavior or actions are a bit off or different, others can be confused and at times not forgiving. Eli has had many ups and downs, but he has continued to love the sport of waterpolo, and it makes up a great deal of his identity now. He still has his strengths and weakness which are evident in the water, but he continues to conquer every challenge. Eli has perseverance. He has also had tremendous coaches who have treated and coached him with understanding and kindness. 

He has a late June birthday, which makes him on the younger side for the club every 2 years, but he has been able to move up when it is time and continue to compete and be an important part of the team. This is very difficult at times in such a fast moving sport that requires instantaneous decisions on non-verbal cues, which is certainly a weakness in autism. However, even when he struggles and makes mistakes that he just can't help and feels perhaps embarrassed about, I ask him if he wants to continue to play. He says, "Dad, I am going to keep playing. I love the sport." I asked him what he loves about it. He said, "everything Dad." I said, " Does it feel bad when you feel like you can't play as well as you like because your brain is a bit different in some areas?" He said, "Of course, but I am working on it."

Eli, along with our assistance, helps sponsor a child in Africa monthly through Compassion International. We also just spent a day last month shopping together and donating food at the local food bank. Eli contributes part of his allowance to serving others. 

There are countless stories, both tremendously uplifting and shall I say "emotional learning experiences" that we have lived during our time in this sport. I have to admit, we have had long discussions in the car after games, when the challenges of autism have made it so difficult for him. But, to see his face when he puts in a backhand during a big game, or is part of a great play with his teamates, or just to see him smiling on the bench after being proud of himself is worth it all.   




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