Parents, high school students, brothers and sisters all joined together at the Santa Clarita Aquatics Center. Some were gossiping in their beach chairs, a few were wandering aimlessly and others were intensively watching for their kid to be next.
It was a windy day in Canyon Country with clouds in the sky as double amputee swimmer Cameron Lutges plopped up onto the board, waiting for his cue.
Even though this was just a practice, the audience cheered and shouted, “Go Cameron,” while he plunged into the deep end.
Cameron Lutges started swimming two years ago. He had tried baseball prior but decided to stick with swimming where he didn’t need the use of prosthetics, which is what he uses to walk around normally.
“Swim’s perfect because it’s all upper body,” Lutges explained.
Lutges was born with club feet and no tibia bones. At just 10 months old, he had both of his legs amputated, but that didn’t stop him from becoming a high school athlete.
Lutges often reminds himself, “Don’t look at yourself differently,” to give him the reassurance that he doesn’t need help and can be “the most independent person” he can be.
“Cameron Lutges is one of the most improved swimmers on our program last year and this year,” said Jim Klipfel, the Saugus High-School swim coach.
Last year, Lutges started off knowing how to do front crawl in a freestyle competition and learned two more swim strokes legally by the end of 2017. He also swam the individual medley, which consists of all four strokes within one race. And it doesn’t stop there. In 2018, Lutges managed to beat his best times on 15 different occasions.
But how does he dive in without legs?
The process isn’t as difficult as you think. He gets on the diving board just as fast as everybody else by using his upper body strength to lift himself up and then swings the rest of his body onto the platform.
As the other swimmers crouch down and get in their stance to wait for the announcer to give them the go, Lutges leans back, keeping his hands at the edge of the diving board. At the sound of the whistle, he pushes himself off and dives in along with the rest of the swimmers.
“He’s such a unique guy and so successful at what he does that you quickly forget there’s a pair of legs on the pool deck,” said Klipfel.
Although he manages to keep up, he’s still at a major disadvantage compared to the rest of his teammates.
“It frustrates me sometimes that I can’t get the same times as them, but they have the kick and I don’t,” said Lutges.
To the team, he’s an inspiration.
“They make you feel better about yourself and it’s always fun because they always cheer on,” said Lutges, smiling.
When picking kids for the team, the coaches obviously look at skill but beyond that, they’re looking for someone who makes it a better experience, provides extra support and leadership, makes the team laugh, motivates other people.
“Lutges does all of the above and it’s really a pleasure and asset to have him with us,” said Klipfel.