Freshman Sarah Orlinsky doesn’t feel nervous before swimming in a meet for Cheshire High School. While she finds the background noise to be loud, she blocks it out with headphones and focuses on her primary event, the 50-yard freestyle.
Upon finishing a race, she rises out of the water and flashes a smile to a round of applause from swimmers, coaches, and spectators. The response is validation for what Orlinsky has overcome in life and the positive impact she has on people.
At birth, Orlinsky was diagnosed with Down Syndrome, a congenital disorder that creates intellectual impairment and physical abnormalities. Despite her condition, Orlinsky has grown to discover a passion for swimming and found a second family as part of the CHS girls’ program this fall.
“I like being part of it,” said Orlinsky. “It is good to swim for two hours (in practice).”
Upon moving to Cheshire back in 2008, Orlinsky’s family first got her involved with swimming at the Cheshire Community Pool, taking lessons with Director Sheila Adams.
“It took her two years to learn the backstroke,” said Orlinsky’s mother, Margie. “It was natural for her to go the butterfly (stroke).”
Orlinsky tried other sports, like field hockey, tennis, and golf, as well playing the piano, but she has felt most comfortable in the water. During the summer months, she has been able to go outside to swim at her home pool or by visiting The Farms Country Club.
“It (swimming) has always been fun for me,” reflected Orlinsky.
Arriving at CHS this fall, Orlinsky decided to join the Rams girls’ team on the urging of friends like neighbor and junior swimmer Emma Glover.
“I’m so happy that she joined the team. I knew that she would love it,” said Glover.
Orlinsky made an immediate impact on both the athletes and coaches.
“From the first time she stepped on the pool deck, she has had such a positive attitude,” said junior Sophie Murphy. “Coming to practice after school, she always comes in with a big smile and gets everyone excited to be there.”
Under the tutelage of Head Coach Dave Modzelewski and Assistant Shea Moriarty, Orlinsky has been training in the 50-yard freestyle.
“They are wise,” said Orlinsky, of her coaches. “I like to go fast (in the pool). I don’t want to stop.”
An All-American sprinter who holds the Cheshire record in the 50-yard freestyle, Murphy has seen Orlinsky’s hard work pay off.
“When she started, she wasn’t doing flip turns because she was getting tired, but now she does them and keeps going,” stated Murphy.
“It is cool to see her put into a meet what she has learned in practice,” Modzelewski added.
Modzelewski recalls how Orlinsky initially struggled with diving into the water, so the team helped her in a workout.
“All of the girls rally around her,” stated Modzelewski. “She works hard in practice everyday.”
As an exhibition swimmer, Orlinsky has performed the 50-yard freestyle in five of six meets this year. In a 92-75 win over Mercy on Sept. 19 at Wesleyan University, she sprinted to a time of 1:37.15 and then came back to anchor a relay team in the 200-yard freestyle. Freshman Vanessa Squillante, sophomore Kaitlyn Grove, and Glover joined her on the relay.
“When she finishes her races, she always has this big smile like she is on top of the world,” stated Glover.
On Oct. 1, Orlinsky clocked her best 50-yard freestyle time (1:22.47) in a 91-85 win over Foran at CCP.
“I always do my best,” said Orlinsky. “I want to keep lowering my time and go under a minute.”
Senior Jillian Stevens feels that the addition of Orlinsky reflects the inclusion of the Cheshire program, adding that she is treated like any other member of the team.
“She swims in a lane and works just as hard as anyone else,” stated Stevens, a co-captain with senior Sarah Chen. “Sarah (Orlinsky) is excited for every opportunity she gets to swim. I know that she has made our team stronger this year.”
Entering Tuesday’s meet against North Haven, the Rams had earned 62 straight dual-meet victories, seven coming this year. Orlinsky will finish her meet schedule this month, but plans to support the team in the post-season meets.
“I go to her for motivation more than she comes to me,” said Murphy, who would like to swim on a relay team with Orlinsky in the future. “Before my races, she tells me that I’m awesome and that I’ve got this (race).”
Out of the pool, Orlinsky has enjoyed the social aspect of swimming. At CHS, she sits with friends at lunch and also dresses up for spirit themes on meet days.
“I’m meeting a lot of new friends,” said Orlinsky. “I’m happy about that because it is a big school and sometimes I get lost.”
While her family hasn’t decided on an aquatic program for her to join in the off-season, Orlinsky will have the chance to swim in a warm climate at the end of the year.
“We are planning a trip to spend two weeks in Hawaii,” said Orlinsky’s father, Harold.