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Parfitt makes splash at Special Olympics


James Parfitt celebrates with his mom Maureen after winning a gold medal. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Sometimes you just have to dive right in.

That’s what James Parfitt did, and it’s helped him become a great swimmer.

Parfitt is 29 years old and he has autism. For the last seven years, he’s worked as a bagger at ShopRite. He’s active and happy, but he and his family were looking for an activity that would keep him busy, and he began swimming laps at the Aquatic Fitness Center.

He started with two laps.

Then he did two more.

Then two more.

It wasn’t long before he was a great competitive swimmer, and because of that, he’s sporting some pretty cool jewelry.

Parfitt won a pair of gold medals at the Pennsylvania Special Olympics, an organization that he joined after seeing the team practice.

“One Sunday we ran into the Special Olympics swim team practicing,” said his mom, Maureen Parfitt. “We talked to the coach about James joining. He was able to join the Special Olympics Team the following season.”

But swimming came at the perfect time.

Parfitt is always happy, but he did experience some tough times. In December of 2020, his father Jim passed away after a battle with COVID.

COVID also forced Parfitt out of the pool for a while, but once he was able to get back in, he had a new purpose for his new sport.

“It was very hard on all of us and it pushed James to continue to swim,” his mom said. “His father is his inspiration.”

And Parfitt used that inspiration to become a champion swimmer.

“I was very excited,” James Parfitt said. “I won two gold medals and I want to keep listening and learning from my coaches. Especially the little things they teach me that help me win.”

But more than anything, it took hard work to turn Parfitt into a top-tier swimmer.

“I returned to swimming in the fall of this year, since the YMCA was closed due to COVID and then when they reopened, had limited pool hours,” he said. “I had to start at the beginning again and continually added more laps to my workout. I practiced one day a week with my team from February to April, from April to June we practiced three days a week. I also go swimming at the YMCA and practice whenever I can.”

But he couldn’t do it alone.

Parfitt gets plenty of support from his fan club. The president of that fan club is his mom.

“It’s very exciting,” his mom said. “As a mom, I love watching my son succeed. His races were very close and my heart was pounding, waiting to see what place he achieved. I drive him to practice and his meets. I also have been helping with the team’s paperwork.

“We have a wonderful team of supportive coaches and parents and we support and cheer on all the team members. We are happy for each other’s athletes as they achieve their goals. We are like a little swim family.”

Like his favorite athlete Michael Phelps, Parfitt isn’t afraid to put in the work to make sure he brings home the gold.

It’s also fun for his fans to see exactly how much he puts into the sport, and more importantly, how much he gets out of swimming.

“He works so hard consistently,” said Tony Benson, Parfitt’s advocate and life coach. “He is a member of the Greater Northeast YMCA, where I’ve seen him swim up to 80 laps in an hour. He has one of the biggest hearts anyone could have. To see the smile on his face when he wins is heartwarming. Northeast Philly has a superstar athlete swimmer.”

James Parfitt won two gold medals at the Pennsylvania Special Olympics. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
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