By Kimberley Cummins
Maintaining a laser focus on her computer screen, Tonia Boyce couldn’t help but swell up with pride as she watched her son Antwahn Boyce– Vaughan glide through the pool at the LISD Westside Aquatic Centre in Lewisville, Texas, in the United States on Thursday.
It was fulfilment and a sense of comfort that the St. James woman never envisaged would have been possible. After all, it’s been roughly two and a half years since Antwahn had been battling cancer and had his leg amputated as a result.
Almost three years ago, on September 10th, 2018, a mere week shy of his 18th birthday, the youngster’s right leg was amputated above the knee due to a form of bone cancer known as Osteosarcoma. Most osteosarcomas occur in children, teens and young adults, where the cancer cells look like early forms of bone cells that normally help make new bone tissue, but the bone tissue is not as strong as that in normal bones.
Boyce experienced an emotional rollercoaster when she had to watch helplessly as the teen battled cancer, pain, surgeries and the uncertainty of his journey.
However, carefully observing him now as he not only created history as the debutant for Barbados at the World Para Swimming Championships 2021 but reaffirmed that even the impossible is possible.
“I’m proud. I’m ecstatic,” the mother told Barbados TODAY while revealing that he was selected as a wildcard to attend this year’s Paralympics Games in Tokyo, Japan in August.
Boyce was unable to travel with Antwahn to Texas, but he was ably supported by his coach Adele Price. Nonetheless, the mum was cheering her son on loudly back home as he competed in each of his three events. The Texas meeting, which is the second leg of the tournament, began on April 15. Around 116 athletes representing 20 nations and teams competed over the three days the event was held.
What’s doubly amazing about Antwahn’s feat is that just 12 months ago he couldn’t even swim a single stroke. During a telephone interview, Boyce explained that last year she received a call inquiring about an amputee swimmer and thought it would be a good experience for him.
“I went to him and asked if he wants to swim and he said ‘no’. I said okay though, ‘yuh going’,” she laughed while reminiscing.
“He had never swum in his life before.
When he met with Adele she said he can’t swim but that isn’t a problem. So he started with her about January 20. He swim January, he swim February, the first week of March. . . and then the pool was closed from March due to Covid and the beaches were closed. So he did not swim for the rest of 2020. When the beaches opened in December and then closed back down in January, we didn’t even go because you weren’t sure about Covid,” Boyce added.
In true Murphy’s Law style, anything that could go wrong will go wrong, and in February both Boyce and Antwahn tested positive for Covid-19 and were placed in isolation. Thankfully, by the end of the month, they were medically cleared and Antwahn was free to resume his training.
The determined young man trained via online Zoom exercises in late February and for the entire month of March, four to five days a week, two hours every day, 6.30 to about 8.30 a.m, at Browne’s Beach. This preparation was for his Texas trip where he would have to compete and undergo his swimming classification in order to participate in the Paralympics.
Classification is when officials carry out medical checks and examine the varying degree of the athlete’s disability so as to allocate them to a certain class or group.
Antwahn is classified as an S9. According to the International Paralympic Committee, swimmers in this class generally have severe weakness in one leg. This class includes a number of different disabilities including people with amputations and cerebral palsy.
“They inspected him medically and asked him to demonstrate that he can actually swim.
He had to know all of the strokes: breast, butterfly, freestyle and backstroke. . . . On Thursday, he had two prelims, the 100 metres freestyle and the 100 breaststrokes and he made the final of the 100 metres breaststroke.
You know he only swimming for a few months so he isn’t as quick as the others but his times were good. His freestyle was 1 minute and 56 seconds, his breaststroke was 3 minutes and 33 seconds and he made the final. In the final he swam in 3 minutes and 11 seconds,” the proud mother said.
Antwahn isn’t quite the talkative type but his coach couldn’t restrain her excitement for him especially given the fact this was his first competition and the limited window he had to learn and train.
“He has grown by leaps and bounds. It’s been amazing. I told him yesterday I am absolutely proud of his performance so far,” Price told Barbados TODAY via telephone.
Antwahn also competed in the 50 metres freestyle and made it to the final. But it is was his performances in the breaststroke preliminary and then his improved time in the final that really shocked the National Sports Council coach of 12 years.
“Up until we came, he was still struggling with the breaststroke technique. He was going slow to minimise errors and in the evening time I told him to push harder and he did. This is his first-ever competition. He didn’t have a breaking in at home because the Aquatic Centre and all competitions were cancelled. So I think I was more nervous than Antwahn because I knew there are the starting cues he would not have experienced before and some of those infractions can get you disqualified. And mind you, he came here having not having much time in the pool, we had three pool days, he learned where the wall is, working on turns – making them efficient is something we couldn’t really do at the beach. He had quite a few limitations but I am quite happy how he held everything together,” Price boasted.
The two were expected to return to Barbados on Saturday but the airport’s closure has cast some uncertainty on their arrival. (KC)