An Athlete Finds His Coach

July 06, 2009, 9:41 a.m. (ET)

This is the third part of a four-part series on participants of the USOC Paralympic Military Sports Camp held at Naval Station Newport in Newport, R.I. We will feature a different participant each day of the Camp.

 Chuck Sketch (Marine Corps) threw his goggles on the pool deck.

 "I don't want to wear these," Sketch said. "They keep fogging up."

 Everyone stared at him until Coach Chris Hague finally spoke up.

 "Chuck, can you really tell that those goggles are fogging up?" Hague asked.

 "No," Sketch laughed. "I just don't like wearing them."

 The reason she asked is because Sketch is blind. More than nine years ago, Sketch had a seizure while changing duty stations in the Marine Corps. At the hospital, the doctors discovered he had a brain tumor. At the time it was benign, but four years later it became cancerous. As a result of the cancer and chemotherapy, Sketch lost his vision and both of his legs were amputated.

 "I wanted to be a lifer and everything like that," Sketch said. "One day you are on the top of the world and the next day you are in the hospital room."

 Just last year, Sketch became active again by swimming, cross country skiing and cycling. He has plans to stay active now since participating in this Camp.

 "This environment helps you," Sketch said. "Being a part of the Paralympic movement has been absolutely great. I never thought I would be anywhere near close to this."

 "I feel like I'm back in the game," Sketch said.

 He is at the top of his game in swimming. After his first session in the pool, the coaches invited him back for another to continue to improve upon his technique.   

 Through the Camp and its coaches, Sketch learned how to breathe without the use of a snorkel and a mask in the first session and learned to push off the wall on his starts and turns during the second. Instead of taking 60 strokes to complete a lap, Sketch can now do so in less than 25.

 "He can go three times as far now using the same energy he used to complete one lap before," Paralympic Swimmer Dave Denniston said.

 Sketch not only improved his stroke, but also gained a long distance coach.

 "He has a list of things to do when he gets home already," Hague said. "I've convinced him to get in the pool everyday instead of the once or twice a week he was swimming before."

 Sketch will also be swimming for longer than the hour he is used to and will be adding all four strokes to his practices.

 "I spent over six hours with him in the water," Hague said. "He wore me out. It was constantly going back and forth."

 Sketch didn't want to ever get out of the pool. If it was up to him he would have stayed in for six more hours.

 "I'm so much faster than I ever was," Sketch said. "This Camp really made all the difference."

 Three weeks from now, Sketch will be racing in the 50m and 200m freestyle events at a swim meet. Hague will be coaching him via email.

 Without Hague there to cheer him on and show faith in his abilities to improve, Sketch says he would have never been able to improve as quickly as he did.

 "What was really important was they encouraged me after every single lap, telling me what to do to make everything better," Sketch said. "They were so enthusiastic the whole time that it really invigorated me and made me want to push harder and harder."

 Hague expects big things from Sketch in the future.

 "He still has things to improve upon and with a little more work he should be out of the 21 range for strokes and into the teens," Hague said. "He just has to keep at it."

 The average stroke count for able-bodied athletes is 12.

 For his improvements, Sketch was awarded the McDonald's Athlete of the Day Award.

 "It feels great to win Athlete of the Day," Sketch said. "I didn't really expect it."

 "He truly deserved to win the award," Hague said. "He never gave up no matter how tired he was or how hard the stroke was to learn."

 He only had one wish though after receiving his award.

 "I just wish this camp was longer."

 After the Camp, Sketch is prepared to go home and beat the girl who was constantly beating him before.

 "I never thought I was a good swimmer because that girl could kill me," Sketch laughed. "But now I'm going to kick her butt."



 Fellow Marine, Troy Conquest was awarded the Visa Leadership of the Day Award for his table tennis improvement and encouragement of his fellow participants.