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Making Waves: Grover Evans Swims in his Third Paralympics at Age 56

Sept. 08, 2008, 6:51 p.m. (ET)


Still Making Waves

Late at night on May 1, 1977, Grover Evans received a call from a good friend who had just lost a close companion. Evans did not listen to his grandmother or mother, and decided to drive the 44 miles down the Arkansas country highway to comfort his friend that night rather than wait until morning.

But Evans' heart proved to be bigger than his body. While driving and listening to loud music, Evans fell asleep at the wheel. His car meandered its way off the road into a ditch, flipping over several times. After being legally pronounced dead twice at a local hospital, Evans woke up and would go on to survive as a quadriplegic.

Following the accident, Evans went on to be very successful in both the sports world and political arena. At age 56, Evans will represent the U.S. in his third Paralympic Games as the oldest member of the U.S. Paralympic Swimming Team. "A lot of people don't get a second chance in life," Evans said. "I'm very blessed I got a second chance.  It was motivation for me to really work harder."

Evans was a member of the 1992 U.S. Team in Barcelona, an alternate for the 1996 team in Atlanta and a member of the 2004 team in Athens. In 1996, he was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame, and in 1997 he was inducted into the Arkansas Swimming Hall of Fame.

Meanwhile, Evans also serves as the Director of Leadership for Minorities with Disabilities in the state of Arkansas. He is close friends with the Clinton family, who were by his side following his accident. Previously, Evans was appointed by Governor Mike Huckabee as Director of Disability Determination for the Social Security Administration for the state of Arkansas.

Evans helped Congress pass the Americans with Disability Act in 1990, and helped pass the Brady Bill in 1993. He has been recognized by President George W. Bush, President Bill Clinton, U.S. Congress and Governor Huckabee for all of his efforts.

Despite all Evans has achieved, his focus remains the same. He has gone through his entire life with a single constant goal: "Go to school, get an education and become self-sufficient."

At 56-years-old, Evans could not be any more self-sufficient. Julie O'Neill, U.S. Paralympics Swimming head coach, believes he supports his community just as much, if not more, than it supports him.

"He does a lot of public service, speaking engagements and different things for youth groups," O'Neill said. "He does a lot of giving back to the community in different ways."

Evans has been with Paralympic swimming long enough to see it evolve from a sport where athletes aim to raise enough funds just to compete to one that showcases athletes around the world.

"I've kind of seen it move from those who can take an initiative to how it is today," Evans said.

But to him, swimming still means the same thing. "To me, when I'm in the water, that's when I'm walking,"

Evans explained. "When you're in the water, people don't know if you're in a chair or can walk."

Evans said he really knows his teammates this time around, and cannot wait to see what they all achieve in Beijing. He is like a father figure for some of them, teaching them to compete under pressure and watching them succeed. Some even tell him they wish their dad was as cool as him.

"He's great," O'Neill said. "He's just Grover. Everybody on the team gets along great with him. He's one of those quiet leaders where he's not outspoken and vocal in front of everybody."

And maybe the best thing about Evans is that his dreams include helping to educate those around him. "A lot of these young people haven't even reached their ability yet, and I want to see them get there," Evans said.

Although Evans has achieved so much since his accident, he still claims to be the same person he was before, just with a second chance. "I've been around presidents, kings and royalty, but I'm still me," Evans explained.

"I'm still Grover. I just try to be no one else - just me."

For Evans the most important thing in his life remains the same: Education. "Man can take away all the titles and positions from you, but he can't take away education," Evans said. "Nobody can take that away from you."

Filling minds with knowledge is extremely important to Evans, but it also presents a challenge at certain times in his life.

"The biggest challenge is education - educating our society on the role of people with physical disabilities,"

Evans said. "We function just like anyone else."

Because Evans is the oldest member of the team, he can be both the student and teacher at times. His age is not a barrier, but rather something he can use to his advantage.

"We're all going to age, but it's about how we're going to age," Evans explained. "Peter Pan and Tiny Tim are inside of me every day. That's what Grover Evans is all about. I'm all about putting a smile on another person's face."