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Balers freshman Nessa Davis competes in first-ever para race in CCS Swim Championships

San Benito High freshman Nessa Davis acknowledges the crowd after competing in the para 50 yard freestyle race in the Central Coast Section Swim and Dive Championships on May 7 at the Santa Clara International Swim Center. Photo by Thien-An Truong.

For the first time in the history of the Central Coast Section Swim and Dive Championships, para swimming races were incorporated into the event. 

This year’s Championships were held at the Santa Clara International Swim Center May 6-7. San Benito High freshman Nessa Davis was in the 50 yard freestyle para event, which is a competition for athletes with disabilities. 

She was one of three swimmers in the 50 free, and a second para event, the 100 free, had two competitors in it. Davis finished the 50 free race in 1 minute, 29.7 seconds, off her personal-best time of 1:21, according to her mom, Anita. However, Davis’ time was the furthest thing from her as she was swimming. 

“I had fun,” Nessa said moments after finishing the race, the joy evident on her face. “I love my mom and dad.”

Anita and Nessa’s dad Sean were there to celebrate Nessa’s race along with San Benito girls swim coach Chelsea Marquez. 

“It’s nice because a lot of people don’t understand our kid can do things a typical child can, and we would like to show them that our child can be just like anybody else,” Anita said. “They just need some extra help and guidance to get there.”

Anita credited Marquez for making Nessa feel just like anyone else on the team. 

“Typically, coaches don’t know how to react and treat our child, but Chelsea took Nessa on and treated her like any child we had,” Anita said. 

For para swimmers to qualify to compete at the CCS Championships, they must have competed with the school’s team during the season. Sean commended the CCS for their professionalism and hospitality from the time they got to the Swim Center. 

“The CCS staff were so inviting and welcoming,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it. When we showed up, they knew exactly who we were. We got our wristbands, the process was very easy and people were very helpful. We were very happy about that because it’s not always like that.”

The CCS Board of Managers voted in 2019 to include para events in the Swim Championships. However, there was no event in 2020 due to Covid and no spectators were allowed for last year’s competition. 

“So we were never afforded the opportunity to have the para events until this year,” CCS Commissioner David Grissom said. “There’s kind of been a push from the state (CIF) and the (CCS) Board of Managers wholeheartedly backed it. It turned out to be really special. It’s been a real positive for all athletes—not just para athletes—to see some of our special-needs kids participate with us as well.”

Nessa said she had fun with her teammates, going to meets and earning medals. She has an affinity for Marquez and tried out for the swim team because of her love for the sport. Nessa was born with Down’s Syndrome and later developed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Celiac disease. Despite the challenges, she stays busy just like any other high achieving, ambitious student-athlete. 

Nessa swims five to six times a week, including synchronized swimming, does hour-long tumbling exercises twice a week, and is also on San Benito’s Unified Cheer squad. 

Anita said she believes Nessa is the first special education girl to play in the school’s Powder Puff Game, and first para athlete to earn a spot on the swim team. 

“She went to every meet, almost every practice and she just goes for it,” Anita said. “She’s just a sassy teenager.”

Anita credited behavioral therapist Vania Davidson, who traveled with Nessa on the bus to away meets for being a positive influence and guiding her throughout the season. 

“We couldn’t have done this without Vania being there with Nessa,” Anita said. “Thank you to the school because they do include our children in a lot of stuff. It’s not like any of the students at San Benito High School is looking at our children as anything different than a typical peer because they’ve been trained (to have a mindset of inclusion).”

Nessa loves swimming so having her on the swim team was a natural fit. In addition to the competition, Anita said Nessa has been able to make friends and win awards which all have added to her experience. 

“We wanted to be able to push her to the highest level,” Anita said. “She’s made friends on the team and has had a real fun time.”

Sean said it was heartwarming that Nessa had people supporting her at the Championships. 

“A lot of people from the high school came just to see her and that was really nice,” he said. 

Balers freshman Nessa Davis dives into the pool for the start of the para 50 yard free race. Photo by Thien-An Truong.
Nessa Davis took part in the first-ever para race in the CCS Swim and Dive Championships. Photo from Anita Davis.

Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at elee@weeklys.com