Athlete Spotlight: Georgia Swimmer J.R. Douglas
Welcome back to #WithoutLimitsWednesday, where every week we feature the story and achievements of one of our talented athletes — who they are, what they love, and how they got there…
In high school, J.R. was chosen as Scholar Athlete of the Year, an honor bestowed on only five graduating students who carried themselves with excellence in both athletics and academics.
by Frank E. Barberena
Exposure is Everything
With his naturally broad frame, wide shoulders and brawny arms, J.R. Douglas is built for power. However, you won’t find this Jonesboro, Georgia-native putting hits on any quarterbacks or crushing any over the center-field wall. Instead he saves all of his strength and energy for the moment it’s time to dive off the block and into the pool.
J.R. embodies what it means to speak softly and carry a big stick. With the support of his family, notably his mother, Ayana White, he has become an accomplished swimmer, recently earning the privilege of representing USA at the 2017 INAS Swimming World Championships in Mexico. But J.R.’s talents and interests aren’t limited to swimming…
In high school, J.R. was chosen as Scholar Athlete of the Year, an honor bestowed on only five graduating students who carried themselves with excellence in both athletics and academics. And he was the first person with an intellectual disability to join his High School’s Marching Band, where he learned to read music and perform as xylophonist.
“He’s also the social butterfly at church! He’s up before I am every Sunday, dressed and ready to go.” says White as she describes J.R.’s love for his church community, where he is cherished by fellow members of the congregation. “After church he’s shaking hands and giving hugs… they are all very supportive.”
When asked to describe the key to her son’s social development, White answers confidently and directly, “Expose them to everything, because you just don’t know what they’re going to be good at… music, any sports… you won’t know until you let them try.”
She goes on to discuss the importance of peer interaction to the development of any young adult with a disability, and while she understands the concerns parents have about letting their child into the world, she feels keeping them stationary and inactive can cause harm. “Don’t limit them more than they have to be. Don’t let the diagnosis be their life.”
Today, J.R. trains five days a week, sometimes twice a day at his local swimming summer league, and three of those days are spent in the gym weight training with his grandfather. Like other Athletes Without Limits US teammates, he plans to continue to work diligently toward qualifying for even bigger stages, including the 2019 INAS Global Games in Brisbane and the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
Thanks to his mother’s outlook on exposure to a variety of activities, and his support system in family, school, and church, J.R. Douglas is strong, talented, and lives life without limits.