MARION — Victories in sports aren’t always seen in the final results.
You won’t see Linn-Mar’s Tristan Bohn on the top step of any podiums during this high school boys’ swimming season, but he is a winner in every sense of the word.
A senior for the Lions, Bohn is a special needs student who has autism, Tourette’s Disorder and several other challenges. He also has an abundance of joy and it shows each time he hits the water.
“I like the way the water feels on my body,” Bohn said. “It’s so relaxing and makes me feel happy.”
An accomplished Special Olympics swimmer, Bohn always has been more comfortable in the water, according to his parents, Leon and Jenn. He had no fear and was drawn to water like many children with autism. Bohn was a “natural” and picked up the basics of swimming quickly through the lessons of his parents and his own observation of others.
“He’s not just a good high school swimmer,” said Linn-Mar Coach Tom Belin, “but Tristan is probably one of the top swimmers in the country for his para-swimming category.”
When Bohn entered high school, his parents approached Belin about joining the Linn-Mar team.
“We’d needed to make some accommodations, but I thought it was a great idea,” Belin said. “Leon and Jenn told me swimming brought Tristan out of his shell and made him excited about something. There’s a radiance about him that spreads to others when he’s swimming.
“He’s a great example of giving the best of what you have. You can’t help but get excited watching Tristan give everything when he’s racing.”
One adjustment for Bohn was the atmosphere surrounding a high school meet. During his Special Olympics meets, there wasn’t as much noise. That change made Bohn anxious.
Fortunately, he had a friend to guide him along. Senior David Rubin first met Bohn in sixth grade when they were both percussionists in the school band. When both were freshmen, Rubin became, what Bohn’s parents called, “Tristan’s Guardian Angel.”
“It was almost exactly three years ago today that I first saw him needing a little extra support, so I just told him to hop back in the water and follow (then quickly surpass) me,” Rubin said. “That’s all it is, just having a quick conversation and showing support to a friend and teammate.”
To Bohn’s parents, Rubin’s influence is much greater.
“He knows exactly what to do and say to calm and support Tristan when things are just a bit too much,” said Leon Bohn. “Tristan has complete trust in him and knows he has his back. The impact of having a peer take on this role and pursue a friendship with Tristan in his life is immeasurable.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has deprived Bohn of one of his favorite parts of swim meets — his fan club.
“I like the people who come to see me swim, especially my ‘fan girls,’” he said.
Belin elaborated on the influence of Bohn’s followers.
“We found that if Tristan was struggling with learning something, all we had to do was get a young lady to help us,” Belin said with a laugh. “Tristan very quickly seemed to figure out how to make the improvement we wanted.”
Watching Bohn grow and improve as a swimmer over the last four years hasn’t been lost on Belin.
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"We get so caught up in trivial things and we think we have big problems,” he said. “Then you watch Tristan swim and a great feeling swarms you. He brings a sense of balance. His presence puts things in proper perspective, ‘If Tristan can persevere, my problems are manageable compared to his.’”