MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Nine-year-old Eli Guthrie is missing his lower legs. But when you watch him churn his way across a swimming pool you’d never know.

Says the patient at Shriner’s Hospital in Minneapolis, “the butterfly stroke I think is the best.”

Eli is one of 25 patients at the hospital’s “Camp Splash.” Now in its 10th year, the partnership between Shriner’s and Foss Swim School is to help young patients overcome their orthopedic challenges.

“From Spina Bifida to Cerebral Palsy to limb deficiency — on top of that a lot of the children have autism. So we’re dealing with sensory motor issues also,” said occupational therapist Barb Knudson.

Foss Swim School donates the instructor’s time for the week-long camp. Swim instructors will work with a child one-on-one in the pool for an hour each day.

“So we see children with atrophy arms and legs. But they are completely capable in the water as long as they roll over and float, they can sustain themselves a very long time,” said Foss instructor Lilah Guertin.

Some of the kids feel more comfortable taking their prosthetics into the pool. But due to the added buoyancy of the prosthetic they have to learn how to balance. It would be much like trying to swim with a life preserver strapped to your leg or arm.

Without his legs, Eli relies on his upper core strength to pull him through the water.

“If you don’t have your feet, your arms are usually the best thing to do,” Eli said.

The goal isn’t to make these children competitive swimmers. Rather, make them feel comfortable and safe in the water while erasing any perception of physical limits at the water’s edge.

“We see families all the time and they see what they are able to do in the water with weightlessness and buoyancy — it does bring tears to the eyes, many times,” Guertin said.

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