Watkins Panthers diver overcomes disability | News, Sports, Jobs

Maple Grove sophomore Elora Watkins competes for the Panama/Maple Grove/Clymer swim team while legally blind. Photo by Nicole Johnson

Elora Watkins stands on a diving board and, when ready, takes eight steps forward. As she nears the end of the plank, she spins 180 degrees, stabilizes, and performs a back dive.

For the casual observer watching this cellphone video for the first time, the execution is well done.

But that’s not why the 19-second clip is being shared. On the contrary, it is made to remind viewers that, equipped with the right mindset, anything is possible.

You see, Elora, the 15-year-old member of the Panama/Maple Grove/Clymer swim team, is legally blind.


Elora Watkins competes in a dive for the Panama/Maple Grove/Clymer swim team during a meet in Fredonia. Photo by Nicole Johnson

Swimming is an integral part of the Watkins family. Elora’s father, Charlie, was a record swimmer during her days at Jamestown High School. Elora’s mother, Leah, is an assistant coach for the current P/MG/C team.

“It’s definitely in the Watkins DNA,” said Lea.

Other things are also figuratively stored in Elora’s DNA, some that cannot be measured or quantified. Although visually impaired since the age of 2 due to an inoperable brain tumor, the second year at Maple Grove High School was undeterred from living and accomplishing all she set her mind to. head.

“Elora’s greatest strength is probably her ability to set goals that most people would consider challenging,” said Lea.

For example, at age 4, she learned to play the violin; she has been a member of the Jamestown Jets swim team for seven years; she took ballet lessons; and, most recently, she participated in the choreographed jump-rope routine in the county high school summer musical.

Panama/Maple Grove/Elora Watkins of Clymer. Photo by Nicole Johnson

“Her Jets coaches and her high school coaches tell her to set achievable goals and she always sets them a notch above, or several notches above, and works tirelessly to achieve them,” said Lea. “Part of it, I believe, is wanting to show that visual impairment is not a disability that prevents him from living life to the fullest.”

For example, his swimming events for P/MG/C include the 200 yard medley relay, 400 yard freestyle relay and 200 yard freestyle relay. When she’s not diving at a particular meet, Elora competes in the 50 and 100 yard freestyle and 100 yard breaststroke, using the line painted on the bottom of the pool as a guide.

“I can see when (the line) ends. It means the wall is coming up,” she says. “After swimming for so long, you know approximately how long a pool lasts. You feel like the wall is rising. It took me a while at first to figure out the turn. … I use this guessing system and it hasn’t failed me. … In the pool, I really don’t need to see to swim.

But diving for the first time legally blind? You would think that would be an almost impossible task.

Not at Elora.

“Last season she was working on getting a feel for the board and working on her approaches,” said Lea. “In order to compete (in competitions) she needed to have at least six dives, so learning the skills for six different dives has been the focus of this particular swimming season. She doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. I imagine her continuing on this way, learning the different skills so she can be an 11-dive competitor.

Nicole Johnson, assistant coach for P/MG/C, is in awe of Elora.

“She has the courage to get on the board and take the plunge,” said Nicole. “And if she slams, she gets back up and does it again. The strength it takes, physically and mentally, is nothing short of remarkable.

Prior to the dive, Elora is able to tell where she is by the feel of the rough board against her feet. She also places her hands on the bars on either side of the board, which lets her know how far she is from its end.

“It all depends on how you feel” she says. “Then I also listen to the coaches’ comments. … I always say that water is a gift and a curse.

And sometimes that serves as motivation.

A few weeks ago, Elora’s challenge was to complete dives that had given her trouble in the past.

“I knew that before the competition, but at the same time I knew I could complete the dive and make it a legal dive,” she says. “With that in mind, and doing a few tries on the board, I knew the best thing to do at that moment was to go for it. Even if it meant a failed dive or a low score, I just had to go for it, to to be able to have a starting point.

“Like (P/MG/C Head Coach Kelsey Powers told me, ‘The only way out of a failed dive is to come up.'”

Guess what?

Elora has finished the dive.

“It’s that mental toughness, that drive that she has,” said Lea. “And it’s not just athletics. That’s all she does.


An honor student at Maple Grove, Elora’s first thoughts on life after high school are to pursue a double major in communication and language, especially Spanish.

“I really want to travel to places like Spain to have an immersive experience,” she says.

In other words, Elora plans to continue to “dive” in everything, as she has learned to do all her life.

Leah paid special tribute to Jeannie Anderson and Sue Billgren, who worked with Elora for years and helped shape that never-give-up mentality.

“Jeannie (a teacher for the visually impaired), in particular, really instilled in Elora that sense of independence, and she introduced us to Camp Abilities, a camp for the visually impaired that started in (SUNY) Brockport, but is now global,” said Lea. “And Sue learned Braille, so she could do more for Elora as a teacher’s aide and a student’s aide. They’ve played a huge role just by supporting Elora and letting her know that she’s capable. They believe in her and present opportunities that have played a significant role in her development. »

Jamestown Jets coach Maria Roehmholdt recalled the time the program hosted an invitational meet at Jamestown High School.

“The pool deck was moved, there were a lot more people, more ropes and obstacles, so she brought her (white) cane with her,” Maria said. “The rescuer wanted to know why she was pretending to be blind. The rescuer had known her for five years by then and had no earthly clues that she was visually impaired.

“It’s a testimony from Elora.”

And if the definition of “will” is “a statement of belief” it seems fair to end Elora’s remarkable story with this:

“A disability is not a limitation” she says. “The only thing a disability disables is what that specific disability is. If you’re deaf, the only thing you can’t do is hear well. If you are visibly impaired, the only thing you cannot do well is to see perfectly. These are the only things that will ever be disabled. Everything else? If you can’t do it, push yourself. Even if people say you can’t, keep standing up for yourself. You will eventually get there.

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