Quite often people prefer to go with the flow to avoid competitive challenges in life but not Napier schoolboy Lance Dustow.

Dustow is admittedly "different" in more than one way — he has intellectual disability. Consequently he frequently harbours a desire to dive into the lanes of contention in swimming pools to prove his worth to reinforce a sense of belonging.

"It keeps me out of trouble," says the Taradale High School Year 13 pupil who is competing at the three-day Hawke's Bay-Poverty Bay Winter Championship at the pools in Flaxmere from this weekend. "It keeps me busy and all because I've, like, always been that competitive guy."

A Special Olympics competitor before that, Dustow took to mainstream swimming in April last year under the tutelage of Karen Kamper, of Napier, although he also is indebted to Heretaunga Sundevils mentor and former Summer Olympian Willie Benson.

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The 18-year-old qualified for the New Zealand Age-Group Open Championship in Auckland where he competed in eight disciplines alongside some national Paralympians in May. He didn't get on the podium at the AUT Millennium aquatic centre but finished fourth in the 200m and 400m freestyle events and also in the 50m backstroke race. His other events, under the S14 classification, were 100m backstroke, 50m butterfly, 200m individual medley as well as 50m and 100m freestyle .

"I'll train harder and harder until my bones break," he says when asked what it will take for him to make the podium on the way to becoming a Paralympian some day.

His favourite discipline is freestyle with the 200m and 400m although the 50m backstroke result has got his attention.

"I thought, 'Holy shoot, am I dreaming or am I dead'," says Dustow of the 50m backstroke.

He made the transition from competitive Special Olympics national pools to the open one after claiming four gold medals in November 2017. He had competed in the New Zealand Secondary Schools Swimming Championship and the national short-course championship last year to qualify for the NZ age-group champs this year.

Ask where that competitive edge comes from, Dustow replies: "It comes from the family."
His parents, Nicki and Brent Dustow, run a family business dealing in diesel although she also chauffeurs her son to his activities.

Lance Dustow is making the most of his time at the Awhina Centre for pupils with difficulties at Taradale High School. Photo / File
Lance Dustow is making the most of his time at the Awhina Centre for pupils with difficulties at Taradale High School. Photo / File

Lance Dustow first discovered his penchant to go for the jugular when he took up muay thai kickboxing as a 7-year-old with Dion Crouch who used to run a gym at the Onekawa industrial site. But when Crouch left to live in Hamilton several years ago the former Greenmeadows School and Taradale Intermediate yearned for more challenges.

He finds the step up to the open age-group champs quite exciting and enjoys competing alongside the likes of Rio Paralympian Hamish McLean who was born in Wanaka but is based in Christchurch. The 19-year-old has a visual impairment.

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"They give me hard times and I give it back to them sometimes," he says with a chuckle, revealing S4 athlete Cameron Leslie also gives him a run in the handicapped system. "The inspiration I get from them is unbeatable and I've tried and tried to beat them but they're such wonderful athletes."

Dustow was born with his disability due to the side effects of his mother taking epilepsy medication while pregnant with him.

"Lance was born with the [Foetal Valporate] Syndrome and shortly after that we realised things weren't right with him," explains Nicki.

Growing up, Dustow realised he was behind the eight ball in the game of life but didn't let that deter him.

"I was like, 'Hey, it doesn't matter if I have Valporate Syndrome because I can still shine'," he says.

In some respects he feels starting a little late has enabled him to prepare himself better physically.

"Nothing breaks me down," says the teenager who attends the Awhina Centre at Taradale High for pupils who need extra help with difficulties.

It has been a great help to have Vickie Harrison, the mother of para-athlete Guy Harrison, mentor and inspire him at Awhina Centre.

"She has been very good with Lance in allowing him to make extra trainings and things like that," says Nicki. "She's had a huge amount of support network around Lance so it's really good."

She says the contribution of the selfless para-community in the Bay is pivotal in providing the platform for Dustow to go to the open champs.

He's mapping his journey on Facebook under Lance Dustow-Para Swimmer for anyone who wishes to boost his cause to becoming a Paralympian.