Liza—The ‘Whoa-Whoa’ Girl


Liza, 9, is a compassionate, caring child who lights up any room she’s in. She was born with spina bifida, causing paralysis in her legs. From the start, her parents were told not to expect too much, “and that was a terrifying experience,” says her dad, Darryl.

Three and a half years ago, Liza joined Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Bennett Institute Physically Challenged Sports Program, an adaptive sports program that offers approximately 17 therapeutic sports, including swimming—plus special motor development classes—to approximately 70 children and teens a week.

At first, Liza was scared to get in the pool—she’d say, “Whoa! Whoa!” as she approached the water—but now she no longer worries she’ll get hurt. “One of the things I’ve seen with swimming that has really helped Liza is gaining confidence,” Darryl says. “Liza can jump in there and swim and move, and we don’t have that fear that she is going to get hurt. It’s really an amazing thing to just see Liza swim back and forth with the other kids.”

Liza “initially started with swimming, and that’s all she wanted to do,” says Gwenna Herman, co-director, with her husband, Gerry Herman, of the Bennett Institute program. “But she quickly gained confidence … and now she’s a completely independent swimmer” who also loves playing basketball and other sports.

“I’m just able to get into the pool and start swimming, and I don’t need anyone to hold on to me,” Liza says. “It makes me feel that I can do it, and I don’t need that much help.”

“Once she came to the program, she met other children” like her, Gwenna says, “and that helped her decide to try more sports, like basketball and tennis.”

“A memory I will never forget is when I made my first basket, and everyone was … so excited,” Liza recalls.

“I think it started off with just an opportunity for Liza to learn how to swim, and from there, it really did change into ‘This is more than just about swimming; it’s more than just about basketball,’” her dad says. “It’s about community, and it’s pretty amazing.”