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story.lead_photo.caption Edyn Grace Walterhouse, 9, of Little Rock, is surrounded by her family and University of Arkansas at Little Rock swimming and diving Coach Amy Burgess as she signs a national letter of intent with the Trojans on Wednesday. Edyn is part of a program that pairs children facing life-threatening and chronic illnesses with collegiate athletic teams.

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock's swimming and diving program signed a 9-year-old from Little Rock to a national letter of intent Wednesday, all to help a good cause.

Edyn Grace Walterhouse's signing at the Donaghey Aquatic Center was assisted by Team IMPACT, whose mission is to impove the quality of life for children facing life-threatening and chronic illnesses by exposing them to a team environment. Earlier this year, Edyn was diagnosed with CAPOS syndrome, a rare, degenerative neuromuscular disease.

"It's a neuromuscular disorder that is in the same family as multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsy," Jonathan Walterhouse, Edyn's father, said. "She has weak muscles in her core and she was born deaf, but we don't know how extensive the ataxia [a main symptom of the disease] is in her brain."

Edyn attends the Arkansas School for the Deaf, where she uses a wheelchair. She primarily uses a walker at home but can walk without it for short stretches.

"She can walk without the walker but she would stumble all over the place," Walterhouse said.

Team IMPACT children are drafted onto college athletic teams close to where they live and, as much as possible, become a member of the team. Walterhouse said he learned of the program through a friend in Jacksonville, Fla., whose son also was part of the program.

"We'll do everything we can to include Edyn in our team activities," Coach Amy Burgess said. "We'll do specific activities with her, and it's going to be huge for her to cheer us on at practice and our swim meets."

Being with the team also has physical benefits for Edyn.

"It's a really great way for her to work those muscles in her core that she doesn't get to use much," Walterhouse said.

The team has already shown support for Edyn away from the pool.

"Edyn was recently gifted with a trip on a Disney cruise from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and so it was great to have the team there when that was revealed," Walterhouse said.

"It means a lot to a little girl to have some female role models to love on her and encourage her when she's down," Michelle Walterhouse, Edyn's mother, said. "It's great seeing how excited she gets to spend time with other ladies."

Walterhouse said they're happy for the opportunity.

"We know she likes to cheer people up, and she's excited to be a part of a great team like this. She loves water, and any chance she gets to get in the water with the team, she's going to take advantage of it," Walterhouse said.

Burgess said she's already seen benefits for Edyn and for her team.

"The few times that she has come with us, it's been smiles and excitement, and you can see it in her," Burgess said. "It's fun to watch the girls want to get to know her and try to talk to her. It's wonderful to see these girls get out of their comfort zone and everyday college life to connect with someone like Edyn Grace."

Edyn's schedule with the team is still a work in progress, Walterhouse said, although she has already been to a couple of practices.

"Ideally, the goal is to be there for Saturday morning practices, but we've got a couple of boys who play football, so we're juggling that around a bit," Walterhouse said. "We hope to be at all of the home meets, at least, so she can be on the bench with the team cheering them on."

Sports quiz

How many Olympic gold medals did diver Greg Louganis win?

Answer

Four. Louganis won gold medals in the 3m springboard and the 10m platform at both the 1984 and 1988 Summer Olympics.

Sports on 09/22/2017

Print Headline: LR 9-year-old makes impact on swim team

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