Diving in a backyard pool or circled by fish in the Bahamas, Hercules Stergiou loves to swim.
This summer, the soon-to-be Grade 3 student got to cheer on the athlete who gave him a big push in swimming – Paralympian Adam Purdy.
Hercules was in the front row and wearing a homemade “#Purdy” shirt on Aug. 14, when Purdy won a silver medal in the 100-metre backstroke at the Parapan Am Games.
Hercules later got to hold that medal when he and his parents met Purdy after the competition.
It was the second time Hercules has met the three-time Paralympian swimmer, who also won bronze medals in the 50-metre butterfly and the 4×50-metre medley relay this year.
Purdy’s condition means he has limited use of all his limbs, but that hasn’t kept the 34-year-old from a long and successful career at the Paralympics and IPC World Championships.
Hercules first met Purdy in December 2013, when Purdy spoke at Bowmore Road Public School for “I Can Day” – the same day Hercules came home and told his parents he wanted to swim.
“I think I was just inspired,” says the seven-year-old Hercules, who shares a heroic name with his Greek grandfather.
“I wanted to see what it was actually like.”
“He is a fish,” said his mother Kristina.
In two summers, Hercules has learned all the basic swimming strokes, tried snorkelling, and can now dive underwater for almost a minute at a time.
Those are great skills for anyone, but even more so for Hercules, who did it all despite his cerebral palsy.
Kristina said when Hercules was younger she was told he might not live, then that he might not walk, and later that he would always need a walker.
Today, she said, Hercules’ walker is parked in the basement. He is wearing summer sandals for the first time in his life, because he doesn’t always need his braces.
“It’s not luck,” she said. “It’s his drive.”
Hercules also has a lot of fans – not least of which is his dad, Jim.
When Hercules joined in a school swim meet at Bowmore, Kristina said her husband’s cheers echoed everywhere.
“Oh yeah,” said Hercules with a grin. He could hear his dad even through the water.
Besides his Bowmore coaches Mr. Fenton and Mr. Snowden, who Kristina called “epic” and “phenomenal” teachers, Hercules has a great coach right at home.
Growing up in the Bahamas, Kristina was a pro swimmer with the Dolphins Swim Club.
Now, when they go back to her father’s beach, she has Hercules hold onto her back so they can swim way out into the ocean.
“Mind you, my husband freaks out,” Kristina said.
“But I bring a spear, and we’re okay.”
That’s a fishing spear, with a sling-shot tip – just in case a barracuda or a nurse shark comes over to say hello.
“We won’t do lakes, but we’ll do black oceans because that’s what we’re used to,” she said, smiling. “Nothing compares to the Bahamian beaches.”
Safe from barracudas at the Parapan Am Games, Kristina said she was moved not only by what she saw in the pool, but also by people in the stands.
There was Hercules’ former principal, Thelma Sambrook, who joined them with a poster that said ‘Go Adam Go!’ as well as the whole Purdy family, who recognized Hercules and insisted he and his crew sit right up front with them.
“They were the most down-to-earth people,” Kristina said. “They talked with Hercules just like they’d always known him.”