In a world that constantly relegates them to the sidelines, three teenage swimmers dare to take center stage to prove how sports can transcend disability. In the documentary “Swim Team,” we follow three teenage boys on the autism spectrum as they inspire the community around them while competing for greatness.
The debut documentary feature from Lara Stolman, the film follows three swimmers from the New Jersey Hammerheads, a swim team that includes teenagers on the autism spectrum, as they persevere beyond expectations while they train for both state and the national Special Olympics. Surrounding all of this are the athletes’ own coming-of-age stories, as they learn to navigate adolescence and begin to build a future of their own.
The film won the award for Best Sports Documentary at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival in October, and it will have its New York premiere at the DOC NYC Festival on November 17. “Swim Team” has also received grants from New York Women in Film and Television, the Loreen Arbus Foundation and the Karma Foundation, and it won the IndieWire Project of the Month prize in February 2015.
“When people ask me how I found the story of ‘Swim Team,’ I say it found me,” said Stolman. “Children with developmental disabilities are routinely excluded from community activities, often as early as preschool. Being told ‘no,’ – your child can’t be in the regular class, your child won’t keep up in little league, your child isn’t going to college – is something families caring for children with disabilities hear often.”
Stolman said that when she discovered the Hammerheads, she was inspired not only by the swimmers’ optimism, but the community surrounding them that refused to take no for an answer. New Jersey has the highest rate of autism in the U.S., with 1 out of every 41 children affected by the disorder.
“They were saying ‘yes’ and as a community, it was galvanizing for them,” she said. “As a mother, I was so personally inspired by what they hoped to accomplish, I knew I had to share their story. I hope my film provides inspiration for families everywhere raising children with unanticipated challenges.”
“Swim Team” will be screened at DOC NYC on November 17. Find out more about the film here, and you can purchase tickets to the NYC premiere by visiting the DOC NYC website. Watch an exclusive clip from the film below.