Some might say Brayden Reeves, who has a high level of autism, is a special needs student. Maybe it is the world that needs Brayden and all that is special about him.
The recent graduate from Fort Worth Hill School has spent his entire life proving that he can accomplish anything any other student can.
And now, he's done it again, signing a letter-of-intent to swim for McMurry University in Abilene.
"The journey has not been an easy one, but I never gave up and I'm so glad I didn't," Brayden said.
Brayden admits he is not the fastest swimmer around, though he's pretty good.
He swims a variety of events, from the 50-meter freestyle to the 100 butterfly, six in all in which he can compete. He's brought home a variety of medals, including several gold and silver, from competition.
"He's not Michael Phelps. He's not the fastest kid I've ever coached, but he's definitely not the slowest," said Jeremy Martin, who also coaches at Burleson Centennial High School and at the Benbrook YMCA.
What Brayden does have plenty of, however, is heart.
When he sets his mind to achieve something, he believes it is possible, no matter the challenges ¬– and he wants to be challenged.
"My elementary school never challenged me," he said. "They dummied down the schoolwork, as if I needed it. My friends would get 20 words on a spelling test, but they would only give me 10. I knew them all. They had me reading The Three Little Pigs in the fifth grade."
Meanwhile, his mother, Tina Rider, kept asking his teachers to push him to "climb Mount Everest." Then, after finding no success in that venue, she discovered Hill School, which specializes in students with learning differences.
Brayden is now in the National Honor Society.
But Hill School didn’t have a swim team.
In a blog post, Brayden explained how he became a one-student swim team.
“But my mom and I did not give up hope on my dream. I became the ‘The Lone Swimmer.’ My mom contacted the local public high school coach and told him about my situation. For the last four years he has allowed me to practice with his swim team. We also contacted private schools and received their swim meet schedules. My meets consisted of five public school meets and five private school meets. But I swam under the title of my school, Hill School of Fort Worth. I represented my school proudly.”
The coach they found was Martin.
From the outset he believed in Brayden, and when the time came to find a college program for Brayden, he knew just where to turn, McMurry swim coach Casey Pacheco.
"Casey and I are cut from the same cloth," Martin said. "It doesn't matter your skill level, we just want you to be successful."
Pacheco, like so many others, also saw more than another swimmer in Brayden. He saw the aforementioned heart, along with strong character, and a likeability that is infectious.
"Brayden came down for his visit and we were highly impressed from the start," Pacheco said. “He is such a well-mannered young man, and he just hit it off with everyone he encountered. We are extremely excited he is joining our War Hawks family and I feel blessed to have the opportunity to coach him."
Pacheco, like Martin, knows how to get the most out of swimmers in virtually any situation. Martin has succeeded at Centennial despite not having a home pool in which to host meets, and Pacheco was very successful at Granbury when there was no pool in which to even practice that was suitable size.
Brayden said he instantly felt at home at McMurry. And, just like that, his dream of swimming for an NCAA school became a reality.
"I knew I wanted to be here, this is the place to take my talents and swim for this university," he said, adding that he's looking forward to working the next four years with Pacheco. "Casey pays attention. He's always studying. He's very involved."
Tina added, "He knew all of their classes and about them. I was impressed."
Brayden began swimming at the age of 6 months. He's been swimming competitively since he was 7 in Special Olympics, and he met Martin as a freshman.
Tina said she wanted to make sure Brayden was acclimated to water at an early age. She even coached him in the few private school meets in which Hill competed. Well, in which Brayden competed since he was the entire team for Hill.
Among Brayden's top accomplishments are posting a time of around 25 seconds in the 50 free and a 57 seconds in the 100 free.
"That was the best day on the planet when he got his 100 time under a minute," Tina said. "He worked on that over a year."
It's that kind of determination that caught the eye of Martin and Pacheco – and anyone else who gets to know Brayden a little.
Martin said even his swimmers at Centennial have learned from Brayden.
"Brayden has been an inspiration to me and my kids. He's part of our community," Martin said.
Brayden plans to study computer science at McMurry. He wants to be a sports statistician.
He also wants to help youths with gaming disabilities, he said, as serving others is something else at which he's very good and loves doing.
Brayden, like many other teenagers headed off to college, is looking forward to being on his own for the first time.