Varsity swimmer hadn’t seen pool before September

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Sahal Hussein couldn’t swim just months ago. He hadn’t even seen a swimming pool — an “American pool,” he calls it — before September.

Friday at practice, Sahal Hussein was diving, performing kick turns and competing for the Lafayette High varsity swim team, a program resurrected by head coach Dave Carter and swim instructor Abigail Reinhardt.

Hussein was like most of Reinhardt’s students.

“Most of them have never swam before,” she said. “He came to me, nervous as can be, ‘I can’t go in the water, I can’t go in the water, Miss. I’ve never been in a pool.’

“He was grabbing on to the gutter, holding on for dear life,” she said. “‘I can’t do it, I can’t do it.’”

Hussein is a sophomore at Lafayette High — a school made up of nearly 580 students who speak 42 different languages. He asked his parents if he could go out for the team. (Keep in mind, he had never set foot in any body of water.)

“In my country they have something, like, river,” Hussein said. “But it’s not swim like American swim. That was like a lot of animals. You can’t swim there.”

Hussein admitted his first few attempts were scary.

“When I was jumping in the pool, I think I was feeling like the water was going to go in my mouth, something like I can’t swim,” he said. “I was thankful for my teacher.”

Learning to swim was one thing. Making the varsity squad wasn’t even in the realm of possibility.

“I said, ‘can he swim,” remembered head coach Dave Carver. “She said, ‘Yeah, but in September, he couldn’t.’ I said, ‘Wait a minute. We’re trying to do a varsity team here. He seems like a nice guy, but I don’t want to have him compete against other schools and be embarrassed.’”

His story is turning heads. Lafayette High took on McKinley Thursday. McKinley’s coach Deb Dourlain was floored to find out more about Hussein.

“I’ve been around swimming for quite awhile, and to see this boy swim 10 lengths of the pool with no trouble at all, my jaw just dropped,” she said. “It’s extremely hard to do.”

Dourlain said Sahal possesses what can’t be coached.

“He wasn’t the fastest in the pool,” she said. “But hey, he was in there doing it. He’s trying, he’s got heart, he’s got character to do all this.”

Hussein’s story was enough for Dourlain to approach him after he exited the pool. She told him how great he performed.

“He had the biggest smile on his face,” she remembered. “He just beamed. He made the whole pool area light up.”

Sahal’s drive to be the best, even when he’s outmatched, makes him a coach.

“He was here every practice,” Carver said. “I think every kid here has missed at least one. He hasn’t missed any. Since October we’ve seen him everyday, five days a week.”

“I’m completely impressed with this guy,” he said. “He’s amazing. He will swim until 6 o’clock at night if we let him. He doesn’t stop.”

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