Coach Brian latched onto his love for swimming early in life. Even before he could walk, his parents had him splashing and learning in a local swim class. By age six, others began to notice and watch as he displayed a natural ability in the water. And while these early experiences can be described as typical for some gifted athletes, they were anything but that. From birth, Brian has had to adapt to a world that he could not understand through sound.
On January 18, 1989, the Bennetts welcomed a baby boy into the world. Released with good health, the happy couple brought him home and began their new life as parents. Baby Brian’s development appeared to be on track when they started to notice he was not recognizing their voices. “They realized I wasn’t responding to sounds or my name being called,” commented Brian.
After a series of tests, it was confirmed that he could not hear sound. “They were shocked,” he typed. Though Brian’s father was a carrier of Waardanburg Syndrome, it had not affected his own hearing as it can for others who are diagnosed with the gene. Because of that, they had been hopeful that their child would have a more likely chance of being able to hear. Instead, it became apparent that Brian’s ear had never fully developed. “They learned that I was most likely born entirely deaf.”
Named after Dutch Geneticist, Petrus Johannes Waardenburg, the syndrome affects roughly 1 out of 42,000 people that can present different distinct traits. “Some people have different colored eyes, or some have bright blue eyes,” typed Brian, “Some have gray hair at birth, and some are born with their hearing, while others are not.
After processing the news, the Bennetts began to make needed adjustments for their son’s unique situation and enrolled him in the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The environment helped keep Brian on track with kids his age, as he absorbed appropriate academics and learned to communicate through sign language. “All of my peers and teachers used American Sign Language,” he added.
But in the third grade Waardanburg again showed up in Brian’s appearance. “I started going gray when I was 10,” remembered Brian. The syndrome often has a pigmentary abnormality that causes premature graying and diminished coloration of the skin.
Determined not to let the syndrome shape who Brian could be, the Bennetts stayed the course of giving their child as normal of a life as possible. They continued to help him excel in school and encouraged his talent in the water. “I swam year-round with Colorado Springs Swim Team from age 10 until I was 18,” he remarked proudly.
As Brian’s swimming ability continued to blossom, he was accepted to the University of Northern Colorado. He attended there for two years before realizing he needed a more specialized education. That is when Brian decided to transfer to Gallaudet University in Washington D.C. “Gallaudet is a university for Deaf and Hard of hearing people,” Brian remarked. While there, he met his future wife, Alyssa, and continued swimming, breaking 10 school records and several conference records.
Then in 2009, his years of dedication helped him qualify to represent the United States and compete against other deaf athletes from around the world. “I tried out for the United States Deaf Swim Team and competed at the Deaf Olympics in Taiwan, and again at the World Deaf Championships in Portugal in 2011,” Brian typed. In 2015, he went on to coach the US Deaf Swim Team while they competed for the World Deaf Championships in San Antonio, Texas.
So how does a former Olympian end up coaching at SafeSplash?
Swimming was ingrained in him from birth. “I’ve always been a water person,” Brian remarked.
He recalled the pivotal moment in his life when he knew he wanted to achieve great things in the water. “I remember after joining the CSST swim team, that we were able to train at the Olympic Training Center (located in Colorado Springs) and utilize their underwater video cameras to show me visually what needed to be adjusted with my technique.” That is when he really started understanding how to mimic swimming each stroke appropriately.
After years of hard work in achieving Olympic status, it seemed like a natural progression to move into a position coaching. Fast forward some time, after relocating back to Colorado Springs, he remembered it was Alyssa who first mentioned that someone had told her about a job position Brian might be suited for. “She told me about a swim school opening up and I joined the SafeSplash team,” typed Brian.
Jaime Zilverberg, SafeSplash Owner, talked about meeting Brian for his initial interview for an instructor position. “To be honest I was a little hesitant to hire Brian at first,” she said. But after talking with her team of instructors and some parents, they decided they would give it a try. It likewise helped that his resume toted his Olympic level swimming. “His experience with swimming made it hard to turn him down.”
Brian’s love for teaching swimming pours out of his smile. “I love teaching kids how to swim and seeing them all progress and meet their swim goals,” he told CRCO. “And my team is all so wonderful in that they are all willing to help me out at the drop of a hat if I need it.” It has also helped break down communication barriers because they have quickly developed a gesture system that everyone can understand.
Like his co-workers, his swim students have been very adaptive to Brian’s coaching style. It is as though each lesson is a game where he has mastered the art of charades. His movements for students to copy are so methodical that they begin to latch onto his teaching style very quickly. “After three to four minutes of working with them, they start to understand.”
But he has had more recent hurdles to overcome in his work environment. “Mask wearing has been difficult for all deaf and hard of hearing people,” typed Brian. In American Sign Language, facial expressions are crucial when communicating with one another,” Brian remarked. If someone is wearing a mask, hard of hearing people usually miss some important pieces of our conversation because they don’t get additional cues they can catch with mouth movements.
“Lip reading isn’t a perfect skill that we acquire but it is a tool used to help us understand people who don’t use sign language,” stated Brian. “It’s not being deaf that is difficult for me, it’s the inability of hearing people to accommodate to those who are different from them.” That is why Coach Brian has remained with the team at SafeSplash for the past few years. He has always been appreciative of their willingness to adapt with and accommodate to his needs.
In turn, they have been equally impressed with him. “Everyone agrees that Coach Brian has been an amazing addition to the team,” said Zilverberg. “For each lesson he teaches, he uses such great ways to teach children and it really resonates with a lot of our students.”
It has similarly made other instructors take note and learn from him. His style and emphasis on teaching has even gotten him national recognition. In 2019, Coach Brian won Instructor of the Year out of more than 120 schools in our Streamline Brands (the parent company of SafeSplash) family.
“It was a complete shock to me,” he told us, “At first, I thought it was only
instructor of the year in the state of Colorado until Jaime clarified that it was throughout all the SafeSplash locations in the US.”
Now basking in the afterglow of being recognized for his hard work, Coach Brian plans to remain at SafeSplash as long as they are open to the public. It is his hope that through his accomplishments that he can continue to ignite the passion he feels for the water in his students.
“Swimming is a great equalizer for all regardless of ability or disability,” added Coach Brian, “I hope that I can impress that ideal on all of my students who come into SafeSplash.