Blindness and Fear Didn’t Stop Her From Becoming a Star Swimmer

Blindness and Fear Didn’t Stop Her From Becoming a Star Swimmer

Vivian Stancil was 50 years old, blind, weighed 320 pounds and was afraid of the water. That’s when she did something that might sound shocking to those who don’t know her but makes perfect sense to those who do: She decided to take up swimming.

When she was 50, Vivian’s doctor warned her that she wouldn’t make it to 60. She knew it was time for a change.

Running was not a good option; she was too heavy. Any type of team sport or ball game would be way too hard; diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at the age of 19, she is completely blind. Swimming, however, seemed possible. She just needed to get over her fear.

“I would stand on the deck with tears in my eyes when [my instructor] said, ‘jump, Vivian!’ And I said, ‘I can’t,’” Vivian recalled. “He said, ‘Don’t make me have to come up there and get you.’”

She made it through the first session, then another, and then another. Soon, Vivian was a regular at the pool — and she eventually lost more than 100 pounds. Her coach suggested that it was time for her to take her swimming to the next level, and she did: She signed up for the National Senior Games, presented by Humana.

“I won my first medal, and then I started going to competitions in Irvine, San Diego and Pasadena, and all over the place,” she said.

Collecting medals felt amazing, but what really kept Stancil coming back was the camaraderie and support that she encountered at each of the Games.

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