Though blind, Scott's vision is clear Swimmer determined to make Olympic trials

July 29, 1993|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Staff Writer

SAN ANTONIO -- Beth Scott can't see from one end of a swimming pool to the other, but she can look almost a year into the future.

"The Olympic trials, I will make it there," said the 19-year-old swimmer from Rockville. "My dream is to be on the Olympic team. My goal is to participate in the Olympic trials."

Scott, who is legally blind, has won two medals here in the U.S. Olympic Festival, including a gold for a world record in the blind 100-meter butterfly of 1 minute, 6.52 seconds set Monday afternoon.

She broke her old mark of 1:07.07 set in 1993.

And the 100-meter butterfly isn't Scott's forte. Her best event is the 200-meter butterfly, where her time of 2:03.16 is the sixth best in the country for all 17- and 18-year-olds.

"Right now, I'm like a second and a half off the qualifying time for the trials," said Scott, who, according to U.S. Olympic Committee officials, could become the first blind U.S. swimmer to compete in the Olympics. "That qualifying time may change one way or the other down the road.

"But I know I'm going to get better. I don't think I have peaked."

Scott's coach, Sandra James, agrees.

"She was injured this year and it slowed her development," said James. "She has a beautiful butterfly stroke, and she'll get to the trials. Her attitude, alone, will make the difference."

Scott was blind at birth but regained partial sight -- two inches from her face -- when she was 6 months old. She can see objects up close, but not far away.

"A lot of people can't tell that I'm blind unless they see my eyes moving around or that I don't adjust to certain surroundings," said Scott, who swam to seven gold medals and seven world records at the 1992 Paralympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. "I have 20-200 vision, and that's borderline for being declared legally blind. I don't walk with a cane, but I will never be able to get a driver's license."

Scott doesn't need a bopper, an extended rod with a tennis ball attached to the end that is used by coaches to tap or "bop" a blind athlete on the head or chest when they are approaching the wall.

Nor does she have to stay close to the lane marker for a straight course like some blind swimmers. But Scott cannot see a pace clock, and recent problems with depth perception and night vision have caused dizziness on the starting blocks.

"I've got to work on that," said Scott. "And my mom has told me that I've come very close to that wall a couple of times.

"But I'm not the type that will let a handicap control my life. You can't let it take over you, you've got to take over it."

Scott has also overcome dyslexia. She attended Montgomery County public schools briefly for the first grade, but she was later enrolled in private schools.

"The classes were smaller in private school, so I didn't mind when a teacher set me in the middle of the room and closer to the board," said Scott.

"Some kids laughed at me, but I knew they were immature, and that some day they would grow up and understand."

Scott will attend Ball State University this fall on a full scholarship. She wants to major in sports management. University officials have promised her large print books, books that are recorded on tapes and advanced computers.

"It's Beth's first big venture into the sighted world by herself," said her coach. "That's all she talks about."

"I'm pumped," said Scott.

Scott also gets excited about her role as a spokeswoman with the United States Association for Blind Athletes.

"I've already given speeches in Maryland, Delaware and Virginia," said Scott. "I want every kid who wears thick glasses, or is blind, to know that they should get involved, and that parents should not hold their children back. My parents have been great, and they weren't afraid to let go.

But right now, the Olympic trials are foremost on Scott's mind.

"I started swimming at age 12 to feel good about myself," she said. "I needed some confidence. Now I realize I have the potential to go even further. I will make the Olympic Trials. I will swim my fastest time. And for me, that's a great way to go out."

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