Making a Splash: Local girl to swim in world championship

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By Nathan L. McBroom

Danielle Wilkerson swims farther in a day than many people walk in a week.

This summer she has spent countless hours at the Family Activity Center perfecting her stroke and flip turns in preparation for the Down syndrome World Swimming Championship later this year.

Lap after lap, she cuts through the water like a knife. Her determination to win can be seen on her face as she swims and by the sheer number of hours she spends in the water.

In the last four years, her talent and determination has allowed her to win numerous metals and ribbons in freestyle and backstroke events.

And in November, Wilkerson, who was born with Down syndrome, will join the 10-member U.S. team and fly to Albufeira, Portugal where she hopes to win a world title in the 25-meter women's freestyle.

The competition is held every two years, and this year athletes from close to 25 countries will attend the event.

Wilkerson, 16, is the youngest member of U.S. team.

She said she is very excited to have been given the chance to represent her country at the event.

Wilkerson earned the spot on the team during a qualifying meet at Eastern Kentucky University this past June.

Since then she has increased her already strenuous workout regiment.

Mona Wilkerson, Danielle's mother, compared her daughter's dedication and determination to that of Mary T. Meagher, a former world-record holding swimmer from Louisville.

"It is just so exciting to watch her swim," she said. "She has exceeded all of our expectations."

Until four years ago, Danielle was scared to even get into the water, let alone dive in, Mona said.

But after a little encouragement, Danielle got passed her fear and was quickly slicing through the water. Now when Mona gets home from work, Danielle is waiting at the door with her swim gear packed and ready to head to the FAC.

Mona said her daughter is truly an inspiration.

"We have always focused on her abilities not her disabilities," she said. "She is just an amazing girl."

Danielle, of Fisherville, is a member of a Louisville swim team but joined the Shelby Sharks in May in order to get in top physical condition for the world championships.

Her local coach, Jeremiah Heath, said he has been very impressed Danielle's dedication and ability.

"She is extremely strong," he said. "It's been really great having her on the team."

Wilkerson said along with helping to improve her swimming, being a part of the team has been a lot of fun.

"I like the friends I have met on the swim team, and I have fun when I swim," she said.

Danielle said she hopes her story will inspire other kids with Down syndrome to chase after their dreams.

"I would tell (other kids with Down syndrome) to try really hard, don't give up and have fun," she said.

For more information about Danielle or how to help support her trip contact Mona at, mona.wilkerson@insightbb.com.