St. Charles teen to represent Team USA at World Down Syndrome Swimming Championship in Portugal

Published: Aug. 24, 2022 at 6:48 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) - For the first time, the U.S. will send a team of 30 athletes to compete at the World Down Syndrome Swimming Championship, including two swimmers from the St. Louis area.

Jon Rawlings and Maggie Scherder are two of 19 swimmers nationwide to qualify for the event, along with 11 artistic swimmers. 2022 is the first year the U.S. is sending a team, rather than just individuals.

“I’m competing in relays, fly and breaststroke,” Rawlings said. “I’d say my worst one is probably the IM.”

Athletes with Down Syndrome attended a training camp in Florida last spring. After the camp, a sanctioned meet took place, allowing athletes to qualify for the national team with times in different events.

“I knew he swam well but we went to Florida thinking we were just going to a training camp,” Melissa Rawlings, Jon’s mom, said. “We didn’t know we were going to Florida and we were going to make the world team and now we get to go to Portugal, it’s amazing.”

Rawlings, 14, will be the youngest member of Team USA. The incoming freshman at Orchard Farm High School in St. Charles trains up to six days a week in the pool.

“Swimming is fun and you get better and better the more you do it,” he said.

In addition to swimming on three swim teams throughout the year, Rawlings attends a private practice with coach Danielle Ficocelli. Ficocelli has worked as a lifeguard and swim instructor at the YMCA for years and first taught Jon to swim when he was 4 years old.

“He sits there and he practices it before he goes,” she said. “He mentally sits there and thinks about what he’s doing and then will go off into the water and changes everything you’ve asked him to. It’s fantastic.”

In addition to swimming, Rawlings plays baseball and basketball and is a blue belt in karate.

“It’s who he is,” Melissa Rawlings said. “He’s a people person, he likes being out in the world and we try not to set limits on him and let him pick and choose what he wants to do with his life.”

Ficocelli, who also works as a special education teacher, said the family’s support of Jon has aided in his success.

“They don’t act like oh, well you have a disability, you can’t do this,” she said. “They’re like no, you do what you can do and we’re going to make it happen.”

Rawlings is also working with a personal trainer ahead of his international trip, for which he’s excited.

“I’m super happy for the trip and the plane ride is 10 hours!” he said.

After he returns, Jon said he plans to relax and slow down his activities schedule while in school. Still, he said he has a competitive edge heading into the world championship.

“I might whoop their butts!” he said with a laugh.

The 10th annual World Down Syndrome Swimming Championship will take place Saturday, Oct. 15 through Sunday, Oct. 23 in Portugal.