Mum's tears of joy after daughter defies years of struggle
WHEN Mercedes Siganto spent months in a wheelchair, she could only dream of contesting one of Australian Swimming's major events.
After years of steady progress following all the uncertainty, she will next weekend.
What Mercedes has achieved at Waterworx Swimming Club is a wonderful story of overcoming fear, learning to walk again and setting new standards in the pool.
Aged 12, she'll be the youngest competitor in her SB9 multi-class events at the Pan Pac trials in Adelaide from July 1-4.
Mercedes was introduced to the pool at an early age because of her family's belief in water safety.
But after originally fearing she had muscular dystrophy aged eight, Mercedes spent months in a wheelchair troubled by her muscle disease.
"She was hospitalised for quite some time,'' Mercedes' mum Tania said.
"When she came out of hospital, we weren't sure if she would be able to swim because she was in hospital for rehabilitation, to teach her to walk again basically.''
During her rehabilitation in year four, the St Peter Claver College student started doing water therapy and hydrotherapy to break her reliance on a wheelchair.
"Once she realised that she could swim again, she just wanted to keep swimming,'' Tania said. "It's just taken her in that direction.''
Given the health challenges Mercedes has faced, Tania is delighted to see her daughter preparing to contest the multi-class 50m and 100m breaststroke in Adelaide.
"I'm exceptionally proud,'' Tania said.
"It can bring me to tears just talking about it . . . seeing where she's come from and the struggles that she had.
"Some mornings she wasn't even able to put a foot on the ground.''
Now in year seven at SPCC, Mercedes devotes four hours a day to her morning and afternoon sessions at the Waterworx pool at Springfield.
Head coach Paul Sansby was thrilled how much improvement she has made, especially last season.
That included achieving the qualifying standards needed to contest next month's international quality meet.
Preparing for her first Pan Pac trials, Mercedes last weekend trimmed seven seconds off her 100m breaststroke personal best.
"We're not expecting magic results or anything like that,'' Tania said. "Anything that comes out of Adelaide will be a bonus.''
Sansby said Mercedes would be about 10 seconds off the pace competing against older swimmers. "She'll probably be the youngest one down there,'' he said.
But as Mercedes steps up to meet her challenge, Sansby is pleased to see how swimming helps activate her muscles.
"You've got to work hard if you want to win,'' the coach said.
Mercedes won gold medals in her SB9 events and with the Queensland medley relay team at last year's Pacific School Games, also in Adelaide.
She also swims in other strokes against able-bodied competitors at regular club meetings.
Sansby is heading to South Australia late next week with Mercedes and another Waterworx swimmer Mollie O'Callaghan, who is contesting the open backstroke events.
Next month's trials are to select an Australian team for the Pan Pac championships in Tokyo from August 23-27.