ST. LOUIS COUNTY — A swimmer at Parkway South with a disability may get an equal shot in the pool, after she fought a decision by the Missouri State High School Activities Association she says put her at a disadvantage.
Ella Furjes, a sophomore, has a rare skin condition called epidermolysis bullosa. It causes painful blisters all over her body. Her feet are impacted so badly, she has to use her knees to walk and to dive.
But the Missouri State High School Activities Association said diving off the blocks from her knees is illegal. If Ella can't dive from her feet, she has to start each race in the water.
So at Thursday's meet, her JV teammates joined her in the water.
“I think everyone saw it, which was kind of the point. It puts you at an immediate disadvantage,” Ella’s mom, Gwen, said.
Ella's friends took the disadvantage to have her back – and to prove that point.
"It was great. I couldn't ask for anything more of them,” Ella said.
It sent a message. Immediately after the meet, the activities association notified the school's athletic director that the rules for Ella are changing.
She can now dive off the block on one knee.
"Anything's better than starting in the water,” Ella said.
The new diving position is a compromise, and Ella will have to practice it. But she’s always been a fighter. She’s up to the challenge.
“I don’t know how it's going to go, I'll try my best,” she said.
And that gives her hope for an equal shot in the pool.