By Vanessa Flores, WSMR Public AffairsAugust 19, 2019
WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. - Competitive swimmer, Andres Hernandez, 28, the son of a WSMR employee, is set to participate in the upcoming International Federation for Athletes with Intellectual Impairments (INAS) Global Games 2019 in Brisbane, Australia.
The INAS Global Games begin on Oct. 13.
Making splashes in the Down syndrome community is what Andres does best, through sports, dancing, and other activities. Swimming since he was four years old, Andres is no stranger to competing on a worldwide stage -- outside the U.S. he has competed in Italy, Mexico, and Canada.
Ignacio Hernandez, a WSMR engineer, is Andres' father and biggest supporter. His life revolves around Andres and his swimming career.
Each swim meet has its unique process so athletes may compete. Preparing for meets with paperwork, record keeping, planning, and ensuring Andres is happy with what he is doing is Hernandez' passion.
Participating in the Global Games is distinct; the swim times and criteria to participate are competitive to qualify.
Similar to the Olympics, the Global Games occur every four years. It is the largest competition for high-performance athletes with intellectual impairment. Over 1,000 athletes are expected to compete in Brisbane this year.
"To compete in the INAS Global Games you start by letting them know your intent of participation," said Hernandez. "Then you must send proof that your athlete has met the required times at U.S. swimming sanctioned meets. Based on that, then the athlete qualifies to compete."
While training for competition as prestigious as this, Andres swims two to four hours a day and still has energy afterward. His team trains in long course and short course, which means swimming 50 and 25 meters respectively.
As the day approaches, Andres is refining his techniques for events like the medley relay, where each team member swims a different stroke. He is waiting to find out which stroke he will swim when they compete, either the backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, or freestyle. His trainers will make the decision based on his time and where he excels.
He also adheres to regular swimming regulations -- judges do not give anyone special treatment, although he competes against people from all walks of life, not only those with Down syndrome.
People find inspiration in Andres' accomplishments. Hernandez' advice to parents of people with Down syndrome is to find strength in their abilities.
"Give your child time to experiment. Ask them what they like to do. Then, do what you can to make them better at it," said Hernandez. "There are so many things Andres has done because we never doubted him. We always think he might be able to do it, and when he tries it, he does so well he astonishes us."
Andres was in the band and on the swim team in high school. At a young age, he learned the art of Ballet Folklorico and was recently in the Viva El Paso cast. He also competes in track and field for the Special Olympics. Despite having a speech impediment, he easily gets people's attention and communicates to the world in different ways -- primarily through his actions and kindness.
Beating the odds from the moment he was born, Andres keeps surprising everyone. At age two, he was diagnosed with a heart murmur and needed open-heart surgery. Right before he was set to get the operation, doctors checked him out one more time and realized he no longer needed the surgery. His heart healed.
"Andres has shown us that you are not supposed to worry about what you can't do. You are better off if you concentrate on the things you can do," Hernandez said. "Seeing Andres does not make me sad because of his condition, I feel proud because he shows me every day that you should work on whatever you have in your hands and do as best as you can."
Andres has a positive attitude and is a beacon for those around him. His work ethic and enthusiasm for life puts things in perspective for his family. Hernandez says everyone who learns about his son's life is impressed with everything he has accomplished. Now, that he is competing at a global level, his family hopes that more people get motivated by his story and see positive things happening in this world.