Gurnee resident Alex Dmytrenko's smile made it clear he was enjoying another practice session in the pool for 100-meter backstroke and freestyle events in advance of the Special Olympics 2014 USA Games.
Because Dmytrenko, 30, is on the autism spectrum and doesn't speak, his smile and hand gestures are how he communicates his passion for swimming. He'll be a Team Illinois swimmer in the national competition starting Saturday, June 14, in New Jersey.
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His parents, Laura and John Dmytrenko, speak with pride when discussing how their son made the games.
"When we found out (last November) he was selected, I couldn't wait to tell everybody," said Laura Dmytrenko, who also is the mother of two daughters.
Medaling isn't all the Dmytrenkos want for their son in New Jersey. John Dmytrenko said other aspects of the Special Olympics USA Games are just as meaningful, such as Alex traveling to the competition without his parents as part of Team Illinois, and mingling with fellow athletes during the games.
"I think that's what I'm after for him, to have a great time," he said. "And that, to me, is important."
Alex Dmytrenko was about 2 when he started a "survival swimming" class while his family lived in Florida, his mother said.
His other sports interests include basketball, volleyball, boccie, golf, track and snowshoeing, which he participates in through the Gurnee-based Warren Special Recreation Association. Dmytrenko has received more than 200 medals in the 22 years he's been involved with Special Olympics.
Swimming coach Jesse Herscher said he's seen Dmytrenko's endurance in the pool improve since they began working together a few weeks ago. Herscher said he expects Dmytrenko to perform well in New Jersey.
"Alex is very self aware, so even though he doesn't speak, you could really tell what he wants and what he's saying. And it's really easy to communicate with him," Herscher said.