Athlete Spotlight: Orlando Swimmer Jesse Greve

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…

by Frank E. Barberena

It All Comes Back to Swimming

Jesse Greve is an Orlando resident and member of the Athletes Without Limits U.S. Masters Swim Team. From the age of 15, his mother Barb has coached him by modifying drills and techniques to fit Jesse’s particular disabilities. They train every morning, bright and early at the Rosen YMCA Aquatic Center where Barb works with Jesse one-on-one for several hours both in the water and out. While at first glance it may seem there is periodic pushback from Jesse to his mother’s direction, upon careful examination one notices he never actually skips a beat. This hard work certainly shows when meet time comes around as Jesse is a fierce competitor with a huge desire to win.

Swimming provides an extra benefit for Jesse as the exercise helps strengthen his immune system to combat Crohn’s disease, a chronic digestive disorder. While a crippling syndrome for some, Jesse’s training and special diet, carefully monitored by Barb, not only lessens the severity of his symptoms, but also greatly reduces the frequency of outbreaks. 

Jesse with his parents at the Athletes Without Limits 2017 National Swim Championships

Barb lovingly makes all of his meals from scratch using organic and natural products, a diet that helps Jesse with all aspects of his health. So much so that Barb even makes accommodations to bring food when they travel. In 2015 she got permission from the Ecuadorian government to bring ten days of meals to the Inas Global Games, where Jesse proudly represented USA on the Athletes Without Limits National Team. 

Jesse expresses his passion for the sport vocally and without filter, not withholding opinion as do many neuro-typical athletes. That said, he will never cut a practice short, or give less of an effort to finish a particularly difficult set. While the opposite can be true with some neuro-typical athletes, who may suppress opinions and comments verbally during a long practice while quietly decreasing effort.

Something interesting about some individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities is that they may not conceptualize certain brain processes, such as the suppression of original thought. Therefore, what appears to some as vocal resistance is actually what many feel internally during difficult physical training, it’s just unfiltered. To become a successful coach, Barb has learned to pay attention to what an athlete’s body is expressing, not his or her mouth. She also emphasizes the importance of establishing a foundation of respect with an athlete so that training sessions are focused and productive.

As committed and busy as his training in the water keeps him, Jesse is sure to make time for his other interests — computers, collecting and competitive cheer. He enjoys his free time watching videos on Youtube and playing computer games, and has an extensive collection of PEZ dispensers, some of which are very rare. For those unfamiliar with competitive cheerleading, it combines aspects of its sideline counterpart — enthusiasm and directing a crowd — with more athletic components like gymnastics, in a routine set to music. Teams earn points based on cleanliness, athleticism and difficulty.

PanAm Masters

Jesse with Athletes Without Limits teammates and Frank Barberena at the 2018 PanAm Masters Championships.

But it all comes back to swimming for Jesse. The sport has not only served him and his family tremendously as a positive outlet for energy and a remedy for health issues, but also has opened the door to discovering his true athletic potential. Jesse is one of AWL’s fastest male swimmers in the entire country. In fact, he anchored the team of four male athletes that broke the national 200 free relay Paralympic record at the 2018 Pan American Masters Championships in Orlando, Florida in late July.

Thanks to Jesse’s hard work and talent, and the partnership he shares with his tireless coach, personal chef and mother, he is unstoppable… living life without limits.