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Paralympic Swimmers Achieve Greatness Under Loyola Coach Brian Loeffler

June 15, 2015

In the fall of 2007 at Loyola University, a blind swimmer appeared in the doorway of head swimming coach Brian Loeffler's office. With his seeing-eye dog, Taxi, at his side, freshman Philip Scholz asked the coach if he could walk-on to the Greyhounds' swimming team. 

"My first thought was, 'Holy cow, How is this going to work? I've got to give this kid an opportunity,'" Loeffler said. 

One year later, Scholz competed for the U.S. Paralympic team in Beijing. As a Greyhound swimmer in the backstroke, butterfly and freestyle events, he had already broken 19 records in the American Paralympic category as an S11 blind swimmer -- with "11" being the most severe form of visual impairment. 

Issue 210: Loyola Swimming Coach Brian Loeffler
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Brian Schneider

"Philip really introduced me to Paralympic swimming," Loeffler said. "I was able to coach him in the 2012 London games. I became a team leader. It was a gift, and it's made me a better coach -- trying to figure how to maximize his strengths and get him through the water."

Loeffler has been the head coach of the Loyola swim team since 1991. A local product, he grew up in Harford County and took home economics with Debbie Phelps, mother of legendary Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, in middle school. Loeffler swam at Calvert Hall and what was then Loyola College.

For the Greyhounds, he swam in the butterfly, backstroke and individual medley events. He set several records, including the 400-yard and 400-meter relays. His teams have performed exceptionally well, winning eight Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference titles (four men's and four women's) in 20 years.

Loyola is gaining a reputation as a place for disabled swimmers, and Loeffler is being sought to train them. 

Among the athletes he is coaching are paralympians Alyssa Gialamas and McKenzie Coan, who have joined the women's team as freshmen. They both will compete at the International Paralympic Committee World Championships in Scotland July 13-19. 

Gialamas suffers from arthrogryposis, a disease that affects joints and muscles. Coan has broken more than 30 bones from a disease called osteogenesis imperfecta. The condition makes her bones brittle, and she could lose her hearing by the age of 20. Both have their sights set on the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. 

"We're expecting big things from Mac and Alyssa," Loeffler said. 

Born with cerebral palsy, Cortney Jordan, a Paralympic gold medalist, is getting her master's degree in education at Loyola. She came to Loyola to train with Loeffler.

In 2011, Loeffler received a call from the Commit Foundation about Brad Snyder. The organization puts wounded veterans back to work. Snyder was working at a computer company in Baltimore, and wanted to know if Loeffler could coach him in the pool as well. 

Sure, he could. 

Loeffler remembered his teams had competed against Snyder when he swam for Navy. Snyder had been blinded by a secondary device that went off in Afghanistan while he was trying to carry two Afghan Special Forces soldiers who veered off patrol and had stepped on a land mine.

Snyder was in the pool five months later, and he made the national team for London in 2012. He won a gold medal on the one-year anniversary of losing his vision.

"I could talk to Brad forever," Loeffler said. "He is an amazingly powerful person."

For these incredible athletes, Loeffler said it's not about feeling sorry for themselves. 

"They don't want any sympathy," Loeffler said. "They want to compete like everybody else."

Issue 210: June 2015