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Honorary Swimmer Stories

Jessica Codromac with Aquathon medal
Jenna Yee - 2019

This summer, Abilities United and Gatepath embarked on a new journey as one organization with the shared mission of empowering people with developmental disabilities to achieve their full potential. We couldn’t think of a better way to commemorate this momentous occasion than to share the story of Jenna Yee – a resilient, determined and motivated woman who has received services from both organizations. “I am very proud of myself. I am working full-time now at Whole Foods and able to rent an apartment and live on my own,” Jenna explains. “I couldn’t have done it without my coaches.”

Jenna started receiving job training and placement support from Gatepath as part of her transition plan after she graduated from high school. Before joining Gatepath, her family described her as very shy, almost non-verbal, and she didn’t easily make friends in school. Shortly after starting with a job coach at Gatepath, she landed her first job with Walgreens. Her extraordinary personal transformation in such a short period of time earned her the honor of being named the 2008 Neal Poppin Award winner at Gatepath’s annual signature event, Power of Possibilities.

In 2017, Jenna moved to Mountain View where she joined Abilities United’s Independent Living Skills (ILS) program while simultaneously starting a new job at Whole Foods. Jenna’s ILS life coach helped her create a monthly spending budget, showed her how to grocery shop, cook, and save money for retirement. “When I don’t stay within my budget, it shows on my face. I get really worried and stressed,” Jenna said.

Jenna and her family appreciate the guidance and direction that Abilities United has provided. Her mother says “It’s comforting to know that the people at Abilities United are so caring and supportive. Abilities United is a very positive spot in our lives.”

We are thrilled to recognize Jenna Yee as the 2019 Aquathon Honorary Swimmer.  She loves to swim, and this is her third year participating in the event.  She will take the first lap of the day, as well as compete on her own team!

Jessica Codromac with Aquathon medal
Jessica Codromac - 2018

Jessica Codromac is an Aquathon participant since 2004 and an Abilities United participant since she was 20 years old.  Jessica was surprised and delighted to be selected to be the honorary swimmer for 2018. Jessica states,  “I like to swim and I like swimming as a group on my friend’s team. I like the cheerleading and my team is good at it. My favorite stroke is freestyle.”

Born with Down syndrome and a heart condition, Jessica received early intervention services starting at age 2 years which helped her learn to walk and talk.  Progressing through the Cupertino School District, Jessica discovered her love for swimming in high school.  In addition to enjoying her swim lessons, she also participated in a number of Special Olympics Bay Area events, such as gymnastic and swimming and earned various medals.

When Jessica left high school, she became part of the Abilities United family.  Her mother Lourdes states, “In addition to becoming very close to many friends at Abilities United, she has received amazing support and dedication from the Employment Services and Independent Living Skills programs. Abilities United not only supports Jessica, but they have also been a great encouraging support to our family.”

Jessica has had a full work life. She was employed at the Century Theater for 8 years and volunteered at the Santa Clara Blind Center and BOK ranch.  She also volunteers at Abilities United in administration and was a part of the group that prepared and cooked the monthly Board Meetings dinners. Jessica exclaims, “I like volunteering here and help with shredding and filing. I like cooking and I’m good at it.”

When the family moved away, Abilities United continued to be a support to the family. Her living skills coach recommended she enroll in an art organization which enabled Jessica to discover her talents and love for art.  As much as she loved the program, her heart always longed to return to her home and family at Abilities United.  Lourdes exclaims, “And we are blessed to be back with the Abilities United family.”

Today, Jessica is enrolled in the Abilities United Independent Living Skills and Computer Education services and participates in art and crafts. Her love of art gave her the incentive to volunteer in the Abilities United Art Program which she hopes to enroll in to hone her acrylic paint skills.

Thank you, Jessica, for joining us as the honorary swimmer for Aquathon 2018! Dive in!

Anne Berry Portrait
Anne Berry - 2017

Anne Berry joined the Abilities United Community Connections program in January 2011.  Over the years she has taken advantage of all that the program offers, volunteering at local nonprofits and participating in the many social group activities.  Anne states with her natural enthusiasm, “I heard that Abilities United was good and when I got here I found out that some of my friends from my old program were here. I really like it here because I’m making new friends too.  We do a lot of social activities like zumba, art classes, book club, and camping.  I am also taking a TV production class at the Media Center.  I’m doing volunteer work at the Boys and Girls Club.  My favorite volunteer job is helping the senior citizens at Lytton Gardens in Palo Alto. We call the numbers for their bingo games.”

In April 2011, Anne also joined the Abilities United Independent Living Skills program. Learning the skills needed to live in her own apartment, in January 2012, she moved into a Sunnyvale house with three roommates.  She proudly states “I take the bus from Sunnyvale to Abilities United each day.  I learn to cook and shop for ingredients to make healthy recipes. I also learn to clean the house. My time management and safety skills are great! ”   Recently, Anne has learned to use Uber (or Lyft) to get around. Though she is familiar and confident with the bus, her active life style would not be possible if she were restricted to public transit. Anne also practices a very strict exercise regimen to help her get in shape and lose weight.  Anne beams when she talks about her achievements; “I lost 25 pounds by exercising, walking, and swimming five days a week!”

All of Anne’s hard work and dedication has paid off with paid employment.  In June 2017, Anne secured a job at the Residence Inn in Los Altos where she works in the laundry room.

Anne understands the importance of giving back to the community. Anne also gives back to Abilities United by swimming in the Abilities United Aquathon. Each year since 2011 she has been a member of the Justice League swim team along with her friends from the Community Connections program.

Anne’s new goals are to socialize more and learn to sing and write songs. She also loves to paint watercolor and uses her outings and adventures to influence her artwork.  Anne is passionate about her life, “It’s good, it’s awesome!”

We look forward to Anne’s energy and enthusiasm as she swims the honorary lap at the 40th Anniversary Aquathon 2017!

Maritza Velasco cooking in kitchen
Maritza Velasco - 2016

Maritza was born prematurely with cerebral palsy and developed lupus as a young girl. But that didn’t stop her from taking on life head on. She graduated from Mills High School in 2003 and started at the Abilities United Adult Day Activities program. Today she also participates in Community Connections where she does volunteer work at local nonprofits, learns to cook, produces videos and TV shows, makes art, and engages in community activities. She especially enjoys meeting new people and making friends with the other students. Recently she has begun to learn the skills needed to live independently including money management. She says, “I’m learning new things, improving myself, and becoming more independent. In the future, when I get married, I will use the skills I am learning now. Maritza also aspires to find employment as a receptionist. Maritza swims each year at the Aquathon; “It’s part of my life to raise money to help the students of Abilities United and make the programs better for all the students.”

Dan Logan with Charlie Weidanz, CEO
Dan Logan - 2015

Dan passed away March, 2017.  He wrote this story in 2015 when he was the Aquathon Honorary Swimmer.  Dan’s therapist, Morgan Pozzi, will swim in his honor in the 40th Anniversary Aquathon.

My wife and I have been donors to Abilities United since 2001. We firmly believe in the services they provide to people with disabilities and the value the organization brings to the community. I could not predict that one day I would actually need to use Abilities United services. In 2002, I suffered a spinal cord injury that fractured my spine. Immediately, I lost the use of my muscles from the navel on down, my legs were paralyzed; I became wheelchair dependent. But fortunately, right down the street from our house was Abilities United. My first venture outside was to start aquatics therapy at Abilities United where I used the warm, buoyant water to enable me to stand on my feet, regain my sense of balance, and get hundreds of ours of strength training and cardio exercise. This enabled me to swim more than 100 miles over three years, including the miles I have swum at the Abilities United Aquathon. I continue to support Abilities United and participate in the Aquathon, because I want to ensure that the organization is strong for today’s families and those who will need services in the years to come.

Peyton Stafford in Fire Truck
Peyton Stafford - 2014

“The Aquathon was fun. I want go back next September and see Sharkie and swim!”  – Peyton Stafford, Aquathon 2014 Honorary Swimmer

The first 15 months of our son Peyton’s life were amazing – he was a very happy, alert baby and was very talkative and social. Everything a parent could want in a child. But between 16 and 19 months, he lost all of his speech except for the word “Ha”. He became very introverted and wanted to spend all his day lining things up. Just after his 2nd birthday our fears were confirmed; he was diagnosed with Regressive Autism.

Within two months of his diagnosis, Peyton started Early Intervention, Speech Therapy and Occupational Therapy. Ten months after his diagnosis he started intensive one-on-one Behavioral Therapy. Amazingly, by his 3rd birthday, Peyton was talking, had great eye contact, and was social! He qualified for a social skills group and minimal speech therapy through our school district and we enrolled him at the Abilities United Milestones Preschool and the Social Skills group for 3-4 year olds.

I now see great things in his future. I see him having lots of friends. I see him playing sports, possibly even as a team captain…maybe a swim team captain! I see him graduating high school and college. I see him falling in love and having a family of his own. But, most of all, I see him happy and seeing people for who they are, rather than whatever disability or developmental delay they may have, and I credit our time at Abilities United for that

–  Leslie Stafford, mother of Peyton

Tracey Jarrett posing with team trophy
Tracey Jarrett - 2013

Tracey Jarrett, an Aquathon swimmer for many years and a 2011 Aquathon Spirit Award winner, is a citizen with Down syndrome. In 1973, Tracey’s family enrolled her in the Abilities United Early Intervention program when she was 4 month old.  During the 3 years she received early intervention, she learned to eat, walk, and use her fine motor skills.   She also learned to swim and be water safe through swim lessons at the Abilities United Betty Wright Swim Center.   It was in the warm water of this indoor pool that Tracey developed her love of swimming.  Over the years, Tracey and her family have been long term supporters of the Aquathon including Tracey’s father, Jim Jarrett, who helped organized the Intel team, one of our longest term corporate participants and sponsors.

For the last 6 years, Tracey has formed her own Aquathon swim team, Tracey’s Tigers/Penguins, and is a consummate fundraiser for the event and Abilities United.   It is her enthusiasm and the excitement that her team brings to the Aquathon that garnered them the “Spirit Award” in 2011.

Over the years, Tracey has participated in nearly all the services Abilities United offers. As an adult, she has served on numerous occasions, as a spokesperson for Abilities United.  She and her family believe that one of the keys to her successful and independent adult lifestyle is the services she receives at Abilities United.  Today, she lives in her own apartment, works nearby at one of the dorms at Stanford University, and volunteers in administration at Abilities United. She has established lifelong friendships with participants, staff, and families in the programs; some of who swim with Tracey on her Tracey’s Tigers/Penguins Aquathon team.

Christina Moseman in pool
Christina Moseman - 2012

Nina was born with a heart condition, mitral valve prolapse, typically found in Down Syndrome children, for which we visit the cardiologist every year.  Other than that, Nina is a healthy young lady who lives a very happy and active life.  From a very young age, she loved going to school and her daily ride on the yellow bus.  She has been a Girl Scout, has practiced Judo (martial arts), and participated in Special Olympic events including basketball, bowling, fast walk racing and swimming.  Nina runs 45 minutes, five days a week.

Nina began swimming at the age of six months in a parent-toddler class.  At the Abilities United Aquatic Services, she has been blessed with many outstanding swimming instructors.  We are thankful to the administrators and swimming teachers at Abilities United who have made such an enormous impact in the life of our beautiful Nina and in the lives of so many more children and adults with special needs.  For this, we are eternally grateful.

Nina is a joy to be around and our family could not imagine life without her.  Her sister emphatically states, “My sister, Nina, is the light of my life.  I am so grateful to have a sister who loves me unconditionally, a sister who cares for me wholeheartedly, and a sister who will never leave me.  With a sister, or even a person, like Nina I would not trade her for the moon or the stars.  I have been told several times that Nina has adored me since I was born, and that I’ve been her role model for most things, such as learning how to walk.  Although I’m her role model, I believe that she is mine.  Nina looks at the world with a positive upbeat attitude.  She is always happy, smiling, laughing, having fun, and her heart is so pure.  I could not live without my sister, and I don’t know who I’d be if I didn’t have Nina in my life.”

~ Christina (Nina) and Family

Mike Seiders with Sharkie in Pool
Mike Seiders - 2011

Mike Seiders is known to his many friends and colleagues as “Big Mike”. Mike is physically a big guy but he is big in so many other ways. Though born with Down syndrome, he has excelled in his own “big” ways. Mike has a huge heart and a heart of gold. He has a lifetime of big aspirations and an “I can figure it out” attitude.

Mike’s “big” goals have enabled him to progress through the Abilities United Early Intervention program to the Respite Services. He also graduated from the Palo Alto school system and Foothill Community College. As an adult, Mike has held various jobs through the Abilities United Employment Services program where he received job placement and employment coaching.

Mike loves athletics and recreational activities. As a youth he participated in many community recreation and sports programs including AYSO, local summer school recreation programs, YMCA camps, and basketball teams. He also learned to swim at the Abilities United. As an adult he is an active member of the Abilities United social group and particularly enjoys the monthly dances where he shows off his many and varied dance steps.

Mike values the help his community. As Mike says: “I’ve been with Abilities United a long time – since I rocked the crib. Now I’m out there, living on my own. Abilities United has helped me be who I am”.

Priya Sadrozinski in pool
Priya Sadrozinski - 2010

This story is in honor of Priya who died on March 25, 2011, six months after she was the Aquathon Honorary Swimmer.

Priya swam at the Abilities United Aquatic Services since she was five years old.  Diagnosed at 2 months old with septo-optic dysplasia, she has had to deal with numerous medical issues all her life, including epilepsy, endocrine problems, visual, auditory and orthopedic problems, ambulance rides, surgeries and hospitalizations.

Despite her disabilities, Priya lived a full life and was an inspiration and joy to her family and her many friends. She loved to swim, play the piano and take art lessons; she enjoyed teaching herself about music using her computer or playing the keyboard and her drums; and she had a passion for making up rhymes!

Priya had a long association with the Abilities United Aquathon. She was recruited by her swim instructor to swim on the Abilities United board members team. By the next year, Priya had started her own team, “Priya’s Rhymers”, to swim with her friends and neighbors. Each team member had to contribute a rhyme to her rhyme collection.

Priya was a prolific fund raiser, successfully requesting donations from her friends not only in the Bay Area community, but also from all over the world — France, England, Germany, Japan and New Zealand, spreading the message of her own success and the support she received to reach her potential.

Cole Hetherington
Cole Hetherington - 2009

Cole’s parents say he was born with super powers. His divine smile melts the coldest hearts, his herculean hug brightens the darkest days, and his loving heart shines brighter than the sun. His powers are the result of the extra 21st chromosome (Down Syndrome) with which he was blessed. Extraordinary hurdles were put in his path including heart disease, hypotonia, apraxia, and a variety of other developmental delays. His parents worried that these challenges would hinder him from spreading the power of his love and happiness…then Cole found Abilities United. He was introduced to superheroes of all ages, supernatural powers, and unique abilities. He was united with masterful teachers, trained in the arts of physical, speech, and occupational therapy. They helped Cole hone his skills so he had the strength, knowledge, and ability to overcome any obstacle. When he was chosen to be the Honorary Swimmer at the Abilities United Aquathon, he developed another super power, the power of giving. Today, Cole’s life as a 4th grader is proof of his ability to overcome obstacles. Like most children his age, he is actively engaged in his studies, classroom, and extracurricular activities with his classmates and family.

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