Noah Rinehart waits for the start of the 50-yard freestyle at Dover Intermediate School in Dover, Pa. This was his first race in two years since a swimming accident left him paralyzed from the chest down.AP photo
YORK, Pa. — The expression on Noah Rinehart’s face said it all.
This was his day.
As Noah often is, the sophomore from Dover Area High School was poolside cheering on his Eagles teammates during their YAIAA swimming and diving meet against Spring Grove.
The 16-year-old slapped hands and yelled encouragement to his mates. He flirted with the girls as they walked by his wheelchair.
However, on this day, something was different.
Noah would later compete in the 50-yard freestyle in the very same pool where a 2006 accident occurred that left him a quadriplegic, with partial use of his arms.
His time in the 50 was irrelevant. Noah was in the pool during a meet, something that didn’t look possible back on June 23, 2006, when he dove in the water during a practice, something he had done countless times before.
Only that time, he didn’t come up. He had hit his head on the pool’s bottom, causing a compression fracture of a vertebrae, paralyzing him from his chest down.
Already challenged with Down syndrome, his battles multiplied right then and there.
Seven weeks of rehab at Hershey Medical Center followed, but Noah was back in mainstream classes with learning support on the first day of school.
And recently, with his parents, John and Rebecca Rinehart, watching from the stands, Noah was swimming in a meet.
“It was kind of mixed feelings,” John Rinehart said. “It was really special seeing him back in there swimming with his teammates and enjoying himself. Personally, it was kind of sad because I remember what he was doing three years ago thinking where would he be now.”
Noah was helped into a special canvas lift at the side of the pool before being lowered into the water before his event.
The lift was at the far end of the Dover pool from the starting blocks, so he slowly backstroked his way to the start.
Noah continued his backstroke during the race, as the other five competitors who had long completed their race remained in the water clapping and cheering for him.
The crowd got involved, and when Noah touched the wall, it was a victory.
“It was a day of celebration to have Noah come back and do his part,” an emotional Eagle coach Rich Janosky said.
“He pushes himself,” John Rinehart said. “He is much stronger. Swimming is good for his health. It stretches him out.”
No one was more proud to be a part of the event than Dover senior Stephen Cashman, who won the 50 free, then helped Noah back onto the lift and out of the water.
“That is something that doesn’t happen everyday, and to be a part of it is a once in a lifetime thing,” Cashman said. “We swam with Noah at DAC and him being out of swimming was kind of different. Him being back is awesome. It’s like one of those stories you see on ESPN.”
“Rich Janosky really wanted to get (Noah) back into racing,” John Rinehart said. “The kids have been real supportive. They have been willing to make room for him obviously. I am real proud of him and glad to see the community support him as well”
Pushing Noah’s wheelchair was Michael Plappert, a 26-year-old Down syndrome patient and Special Olympian who swam at Dover and has been an Eagles assistant the last seven years.
The two spend a lot of time together poolside. Plappert is an inspiration for Noah.
“I feel famous,” Noah said with a smile stretching across his youthful face. “I like being a part of this team. I really like the girls.”
Obviously, despite the wheelchair, Noah is a typical teenage boy.
“It was kind of mixed feelings. It was really special seeing him back in there swimming with his teammates and enjoying himself. Personally, it was kind of sad because I remember what he was doing three years ago thinking where would he be now.”