Freshman swimmer beats the odds

Freshman swimmer Ian Silverman knows how to navigate the rough waters of life, both in and out of the pool.

Born with cerebral palsy, Silverman has faced his share of challenges early on in life. Cerebral palsy is a disorder that affects the brain’s cerebrum, the area of the brain that controls the body’s movement. The disorder varies in its severity but commonly results in decreased motor function in various parts of the body, as well as a loss of sensation, balance and muscle coordination.

Just keep swimming · Freshman Ian Silverman, above, won a gold medal in the 400 freestyle at the 2012 London Paralympics. - Mariya Dondonyan | Daily Trojan

Just keep swimming · Freshman Ian Silverman, above, won a gold medal in the 400 freestyle at the 2012 London Paralympics. – Mariya Dondonyan | Daily Trojan

“I don’t really view it as a disability at this point, mainly because I’ve just lived with it my whole life,” Silverman said. “I’ve just found ways to live around it.”

Silverman began his aquatic career at the age of 6. By the age of 8, he began to take his passion for swimming seriously and joined a local year-round team called the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, the program that produced famous Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps.

“Ian broke Michael Phelps’ Maryland age group record in the 50[-meter] freestyle when he was 10 years old,” Ian’s mother, Dawn Silverman, said. “What most people didn’t know is that when Ian was out of the pool, he wore braces on his legs. One set for day and a different set for night.”

Silverman, a native of Baltimore, Maryland, came to USC this fall in pursuit of higher education and to train with his teammates on the USC men’s swimming team.

Silverman was also recently nominated for the Paralympics August Athlete of the month in the Best Youngster category. Among five other established nominees, Silverman was the only one from the United States. Silverman said he was grateful to be nominated for the award.

“It’s definitely an honor [to receive this nomination],” Silverman said. “The other athletes, I know personally and they are great competitors. To be categorized with them is definitely a special feeling.”

Dawn Silverman said that Ian’s past coaches and mentors have fostered his can-do attitude.

“Ian is fortunate that his physicians, surgeons, teachers and coaches at North Baltimore Aquatic always focused on what Ian could do, and never his limitations,” she said. “One of the best coaches in the world, Dave Salo [head coach of USC men’s swimming], has invested in him. Ian’s in a great place to springboard into even more success in Rio and a tremendous life after swimming as a USC alum. A Trojan for life.”

Despite his condition, Silverman said he never stopped his journey to achieve his dreams and aspirations.

In 2012, Silverman went to the London Paralympics where he earned the gold medal in the 400-meter freestyle. He considers that moment one of his greatest accomplishments.

Additionally, Silverman has achieved the Paralympic world records in the 400-meter, 800-meter and 1500-meter freestyle and set Paralympic American records in the 200-meter freestyle and the 50-meter butterfly, among others.

“Ian has demonstrated much humility and humbleness amidst his accomplishments in the Paralympics and he has taken a leadership role among his peers on the Paralympic team,” said Henry Silverman, Ian’s father. “He has also become an inspiration to others in the disability community, as he has been an example of what individuals with disabilities can accomplish.”

Silverman said his parents are his biggest inspiration.

“They sacrificed so much for me,” he said. “Just driving me to the pool, there and back and then especially taking me to special doctors, specialists and surgeons and literally doing whatever they can do to make it easier on me. I mean it was incredible the lengths they went through.”

Silverman’s desire for high achievement is not limited to the swimming pool. Though he has not yet officially declared a major, Silverman hopes to transfer into the Marshall School of Business and also study cinematic arts, channeling his avid love for film.

”Ian has been a friend of me and my family for many, many years,” said William Cosgarea, Ian’s friend and teammate at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club. “In that time, I’ve gotten to know him as an excellent student, determined teammate, and amazing friend. Ian is a brother to me, and I look forward to seeing the great things he does as a USC Trojan.”

Silverman knew he wanted to attend USC after a campus visit and meeting with the USC head swimming coach Dave Salo.

“When I took a trip out here and visited I knew immediately this is where I wanted to be. From the swim team to the coaching staff to the school itself, it had everything I wanted and I just felt at home,” Silverman said.

After he graduates from USC in 2018, Silverman has his sights on the Tokyo Paralympic competition.