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Born with spina bifida, Woolridge makes Great Mills swimming team

By JAMES A. McCRAY III

Staff writer

Great Mills Hornets sophomore Kayla Woolridge has been swimming since she was 8-years-old.

Swimming is one of the few sports she can participate in.

Woolridge will not show up on a basketball court or on a soccer field, but she will show up in the swimming pool and race against you, competitively.

“The nerves in my back are not connected to the nerves in my legs, so I can’t walk,” Woolridge said. “I have been in a wheelchair my whole life.”

Born with spina bifida, a birth condition in which the spinal cord does not form properly, the swimmer cannot walk, but she can read.

After a tryout with the Great Mills Hornets swim team, Woolridge opened up an email a couple of weeks ago that alerted her that she had in fact made the Hornets swim team.

“I freaked out, too,” Woolridge said of her initial reaction.

Woolridge has been on swimming teams throughout her life, part of club teams mainly. But on Wednesday evening, she sat on the deck of the Lackey High School pool ready to take part in her first meet as a high school swimmer as part of first-year head coach Troy Kroll’s Hornets.

“I’ve been on a couple of different swim teams before,” Woolridge said, “but I was still nervous that I wasn’t going to make it because he [Kroll] is tough.”

Kroll, however, admitted he did not look at Woolridge as anything other than a swimmer trying to make a high school team during the tryouts process.

“When she came in, she was evaluated as a swimmer,” Kroll said, “and she beat out some people.”

Kroll went on to explain that having Woolridge as part of the Hornets team has no effect on the team as a whole, other than the expected logistics of bus rides and so forth.

“I tell you what, with her [on the team] there is no difference,” Kroll said. “She is as independent as can be. It’s one thing I don’t have to worry about because she gets in and out of the pool without assistance, so there is no difference.”

Kroll said that Woolridge can swim all four swimming strokes. Wednesday, the freshman was set to swim the 50- and 100-yard freestyle races and as part of a relay team.

Woolridge said that there is no difference in the water from other swimmers aside from the kicking aspect.

On her hopes heading into Wednesday, Woolridge said, “Hopefully, it can be beating people in my [race]. I am really excited about that. I am going to try to beat those people.”

However, for her long-term goals, Woolridge and the Hornets have much bigger plans.

“To get to the state championships,” she added.

Leading that way will be Kroll, who coaches locally at the Great Mills Aquatic Club and now finds himself head of a high school level. Kroll takes over for Caroline Dukich, who headed the Hornets the past five seasons.

“I’m excited,” Kroll said. “This is the first time in three years where I have been on a high school deck. … I am excited about the team. We don’t really have a superstar, but they are all scrappy and it’s a lot of fun to coach these guys. I am excited to see how they perform in the meets.”

Great Mills opened the 2012-13 season on Wednesday with a tri-meet against the La Plata Warriors and the hosting Lackey Chargers.

The Hornets girls split, defeating Lackey 174-104 and being edged by La Plata 141-133. The boys side saw the Hornets lose to the Chargers 153-126 and to the Warriors 169-107.

jmccray@somdnews.com