Swim-4-Sound Photo

The Story

On August 31, I turned 18 years old. At the end of a celebratory dinner while sharing birthday cake, my dad asked me how I thought adulthood would differ from childhood and what I was most excited about. In the moment, I struggled to find a good answer. 

The next morning, however, I responded that I hoped adulthood would be a time where I could deposit instead of withdraw.  In essence, I would love to give back to my family and to the organizations whose help was transformative during what was an extraordinary and lucky childhood. It is with this momentum, as well as the support of my family and the founding committee of Aqua Heroes, that I am doing a pilot launch of Swim-4-Sound.

Each of us finds moments where we encounter unexpected rough waters. We are plunged in unexpectedly, dive to quiet depths and there, in our particular silence, find the strength to swim back up to the surface.  In my case, between the ages of four and seven, a series of debilitating vertigo attacks and autoimmune hearing disease attacked both my balance and the delicate hair cells in my ears that picked up sound. By the age of seven, I was profoundly deaf in both ears and unable to regain about 90 percent of my balance function.   

Blessed to have access to world class medical care, I was a recipient of cochlear implants on my left and right cochlea at NYU Cochlear Implant Center at age 8 and age 10. These devices restore the sense of hearing by applying semi-conductor technology designed to send electronic signals to the auditory nerve. With speech therapy and cochlear language adaption, cochlear implant patients learn to process the new language of the implant signals and as such “hear” again. In short,  I live with a miracle everyday. I am able to thrive academically in mainstream school, hear orchestral music at New York City Ballet, participate in lively civil discourse with my peers and family, have conversations in both English and Spanish, play classical and jazz piano, and live a fully normal existence notwithstanding that I am totally deaf. 

So, why swim and Swim-4-Sound? 

In my case with my balance compromised and some obvious limitations to acoustic processing in a gym or a field environment, Varsity Swimming at Dalton has been the one sport that I could fully participate in during high school. Water provides a powerful equilibrium and essentially the entire team is swimming in muffled sound.  As such, I am a vital and full team participant. And, while I am certainly not the fastest member of the Varsity team, what I can do is volunteer to swim the distance races. Ready to take one for the team by swimming the distance events, my teammates are then free to swim those races that they might have a shot at winning. The medical challenges that I faced helped develop a deep resilience and lasting power….I give these qualities back to whatever I do. 

And, a swim team (or a swim-a-thon) I believe is the perfect collaborative experience. Notwithstanding one’s speed or one’s differences, everyone can contribute and participate in a collaborative group effort. This is a fantastic metaphor for adulthood and for community. Further, competitive and recreational swimmers alike recognize that swimming is a restorative and liberating exercise where doing laps allows one to think and to reconnect with quiet thoughts. In this regard, I hope all Swim-4-Sound swim participants can dedicate this time in the water to think about their own journey, reflect on times when they had to swim hard upstream, and reconnect with how they might make a difference in the world around them. 

Why “4" and not "for”?  In four corners of the country —— New York, Miami, Newport Beach and Seattle—— there will be Founding Aqua-Heroes who are Swimming-4-Sound . I will swim 72 laps (18 years x 4 strokes) which is a few laps more than one mile.  

What can you do? Pledge your support to Biotechnology Innovation (Cochlear Implant Center at NYU) or to early childhood education (Clarke School for Hearing and Speech).

Come join us in the pool in New York City or set up a time to swim on your own. If you can’t swim but want to sponsor our team, your support will be incredibly valued by these organizations. 


Nicholas Clark