A decade ago, Trevor Tucci was 8 years old, making waves with his Redbird Swim Club teammates.
Today, he is making plans to attend Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais in the fall on a swimming scholarship—a scholarship he earned without the use of his legs.
When Trevor began swimming with the Redbird Swim Club during his youth and for the Normal Community High School varsity team, four years ago, a college scholarship was never in the picture, according to his dad, Marc.
“If you look back 18 years when he was born you never would have thought he’d be this far, let alone a college wanting him,” said Marc. “We didn’t have any (goals), probably just a place for him to go and be part of a team.”
“It’s awesome,” added Trevor, who has spent his life in a wheelchair, “so cool. When I started high school I wasn’t thinking scholarship. I never thought I would ever get a scholarship to go to college. It’s cool that I can help pay for my college education.”
Trevor has the long-term goal of making the Paralympic Games in 2020 in Tokyo or 2024 in Paris.
“It’s been a goal since I was a little kid, but actually became a real goal when I made my first cut in 2012 or 2013 in the 400 freestyle,” he said.
Trevor said that swimming helps define his life.
“It’s definitely made me more independent because it’s made me learn to do different strokes on my own with the use of my legs and how my body position is.”
According to his pediatrician and delivery doctor, Kimberly Marshall of Bloomington Pediatrics and Allergy, Trevor was born with a hole in his back, the result of a severe form of spina bifida, leaving him no movement and little feeling below his waist.
“We did not know ahead of time that Trevor was going to be born with spina bifida, so there was some surprise and concern,” said Marshall. “Obviously, when he was first delivered we weren’t expecting that. We were thrilled he was here, but certainly there was a lot of concern because of his medical problems.”
And where is Trevor today in regards to where he was at birth?
“Trevor has been an amazing and inspiring kid,” said Marshall. “He has never been one to complain much or think he couldn’t do things like some kids who have medical problems. Trevor just accepted that he would do what it took to get the job done and he never seemed to be fazed by the obstacles he had to face. He’s a very strong kid and motivated to succeed and never really let things get him down or stop him. His attitude has always been upbeat.
“He’s a very bright young man, who has worked hard to get where he is. Not every child would have succeeded to the level he has because he is so motivated and determined to do so,” said Marshall.
Trevor admitted he’s never given much thought to the fact that he has used a wheelchair his entire life.
“It doesn’t seem any different to me than anybody else. I figure out how to do different stuff and if I can’t do it, it’s not the end of the world. I just try something else out. It’s always been a part of my life. It’s never really been a big issue for me. I don’t expect to be treated any differently,” he said.
That drive, determination, and motivation has led Trevor to Illinois High School Association State Championships for athletes with disabilities in the freestyle, butterfly, back and breast strokes the last three years, all in record-setting times each year.
Teammates without disabilities have surrounded Trevor his entire life, including Tyler Yuan, who began swimming with Trevor with the Redbird Club and is still with him at NCHS.
“Trevor is the hardest worker out there. He never complains. It’s never too hard or I can’t make it. He’ll just swim. He’ll just swim his heart out. I’m swimming my set and I’m so tired and I want to give up, then I look over at Trevor and he’s just swimming and he’s making the sets and doing exactly what he’s told," said Yuan.
"He’s just a leader on this team, especially this his senior year. He’s been a big inspiration on our team.”
To which fellow teammate Shannon Pinto added:
“He really is the hardest worker. Coach Budak says he’s making the sets and he doesn’t have legs. He has the mental fortitude. He doesn’t give up.”
Coach Budak would be Normal Community’s Heather Budak, who said she makes very few modifications for Trevor.
“Trev’s like every other kid on deck. There’s never been a single time when he has looked at me and said I can’t do that even if it’s something he can’t physically do because he has no use of his legs. He figures out a way to do something else,” said Budak.
John Almeida has coached Trevor since he began swimming with the Redbird Club at age 5. Almeida has produced many great swimmers, including a couple Olympians. But, he sounded like a proud father when talking about Trevor's accomplishments.
“He’s amazing. We are awfully proud to have him in the club. All of the kids look up to him and he practices normal like everybody else. We don’t treat him any different. When you see the way he works he’s a natural good swimmer. Very strong with the upper body that he has," said Almeida.
“He’s not afraid to work, and swimming is hard work. There’s something inside of him that is definitely different because he never complains. He doesn’t see himself as handicapped. The Redbird Club is fortunate to have him because he creates a different atmosphere,” said Almeida.
Olivet Nazarene coach Scott Teeters had seen Trevor compete at a club meet during the summer season and was well aware of John Almeida’s reputation for developing world-class swimmers. He struck up a conversation with Trevor at a meet in Wisconsin last summer.
“I know he’s extremely hard-working, and I also know that he has a heart for giving and that’s something that fits into the program that we are trying to run here. I just felt he would be a good fit for the Olivet swim family. We just recruit good kids and I like Trevor’s character and that’s why we decided we were really interested in him. What we try to do is create the best environment for everybody to get better,” said Teeters.
Teeters said he’s just the next stage in Trevor’s development to the ultimate goal of making the Paralympics in 2020 or 2024.
“We need to see if we can’t set him on the podium at the Olympic Games. My goal is to get the young man to mature, improve and medal. We feel pretty blessed because we’re getting a young man who is just on the cusp of international success,” said Teeters.
Trevor’s mom, Dawna, said it was a blessing Teeters came in Trevor’s life when he did.
“His goal is to make the Olympics and we need a coach who could train him and he wanted to be away from home. His club coach could train him, but he wanted to have that college experience. He was thrilled he found a coach who was excited about working with and had all these ideas that they could try. It was awesome," said Dawna Tucci.
Marc Tucci added Teeters recruited another athlete with disabilities for next season.
“He has a background in the disabled world, so he wants to try new things. He has new ideas. His goal is to be the place where disabled athletes go and train. The college team, the college atmosphere, the Olivet campus is a perfect setting for him,” said Marc Tucci.
Trevor hopes to add to his collection of IHSA medals at the state meet this weekend in Naperville. Coach Budak believes having a confirmed college scholarship has served as added motivation.
“I think it has really given Trevor a new focus this year because he is in the best shape of his life and he is swimming so fast right now. He is swimming lifetime bests all the time. He’s having a great year,” said Budak.
Trevor gave credit to a lot of people who have been there for him along the way, but none more than to his parents.
“I'm happy I can help pay for part of my college with the scholarship. They’ve been awesome. They’ve always encouraged me to swim and do things by myself, to be more independent and do things for myself," said Trevor.
UPDATE: Trevor won three events at the state meet, the 100 and 200 Freestyle and the 100 Breaststroke. He placed 2nd in the 50 Freestyle.
You can listen to GLT's interview with Tucci 10 years ago:
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