Fitting in: GJ’s Mercado swims with the best

GJ's Mercado swims with the best

Anna Mercado of Grand Junction swims the anchor leg of the 200 yard free relay, the first race she has ever swam. She has only been swimming less the a few months.

All Anna Mercado has ever wanted to do was fit in.

As a member of the Grand Junction High School swim team, Mercado is getting that chance.

She doesn’t have the smoothest dive into the pool, nor is she the fastest swimmer on the team, but whenever Mercado finished a race Saturday in the Southwestern League Relays, it was hard to miss the applause coming from every corner of the Orchard Mesa Community Pool.

Mercado, a junior, was competing in her first swim meet in six years, a feat made more impressive because she has sensory integration dysfunction, a neurological disorder that affects how a person processes stimuli.

Grand Junction coach Dale Leonhart invited Anna to join the team after noticing her cheering on her younger sister, a swimmer for the Grand Junction Dolphins.

“(Anna) always came to the meets, just kind of hung around, so I talked to her mom about getting her in with the girls,” Leonhart said.

Leonhart and Marianne Mercado, Anna’s mother, helped Anna start swimming competitively for the first time since competing in the Special Olympics at age 11.

“In Special Olympics she did swimming, she did biking, and she did basketball, and it was so much fun and she totally enjoyed it, but then she just wanted to be like everybody else,” Marianne said.

The fun Anna has swimming is apparent as she climbs out of the pool with a smile on her face.

“It feels good because everybody cheers me on,” Anna said after her first race.

“Being included in a sport again, I don’t think she realized how much fun she had,” Marianne said.

Durango won the all-relay meet with 404 points. Grand Junction took fourth with 166, Fruita Monument was seventh with 124, and the combined Palisade/Central team took 10th.

The Tigers have supported Anna’s joining the team and have helped her start to overcome her fear of heights.

Anna has poor depth perception, which is not part of her sensory integration dysfunction. It affects Anna on the starting block. Instead of diving in the pool, she jumps in feet-first and starts swimming.

“She’s intimidated, but she’ll do it,” Marianne said. “She’ll eventually figure out how to dive head-first, but the fact that she’s just going off the board is really something for her, and now she’s learning how not to be afraid.”

Teammate Stephanie Skinner, said the team was happy to have Anna join them.

“She’s a really sweet girl and doesn’t have anything mean to say,” Skinner said, adding that Anna has shown a lot of improvement since the start of practice.

“She definitely adds to our aspect of hard work and getting from one step to another. ... She’s definitely pushing herself,” Skinner said.

Mercado’s work ethic was praised by both teammates and Leonhart.

“The cool thing is, all the other girls on the team help her,” Leonhart said. “They understand that she needs a little more help to learn how to do stuff. They’re pretty supportive and they work with her.”

The support of the team hasn’t been lost on Anna’s family.

“The team members recognize her in the hallway, she’s just not this lost soul in the hallway of the school, which is really good,” Marianne said.

“This is really good for her because these girls are really inclusive, they are very supportive, and it just makes a big difference.”


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