BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Will Johannessen is a 17-year-old whose passion is swimming.
He's a typical teenager who retreats to his room to play the drums in his down time. Along a shelf in his room are all sorts of trophies for basketball, horseback riding, swimming, baseball, and much more.
Bill and Alison Johannessen are Will's parents. "He's just a typical kid. He has Down syndrome, but he functions at a very high level. He does everything other kids do at just a slightly different pace," said Bill.
Will goes to Hope Academy, a school aimed at teaching children with special needs.
Every parent's wish is to fulfill their child's wishes, regardless of any special need. "The pregnancy was almost a mourning period because all our hopes and dreams were shattered. When Will was born and they put him in my hands and I held him, and I had this perfect little child with ten fingers and ten toes who didn't have all the issues that doctors said he would have. Life was okay and where he is now, he is just a great kid. He's getting ready to turn 18. It's been a wild trip," said Bill.
Will's parents enrolled him in swimming lessons when he was just 3-years-old. He started in his neighborhood swim club and eventually started competing locally and statewide. Last November, he was invited to try out for the national Special Olympics, competing against eight boys for four spots. When they left, they were told they would get a letter in the mail letting them know if they'd made the cut.
"I said, 'Where you going?' He said, 'Well, I have to go check the mail to get my letter.' I said, 'It's Sunday.' Well the mail doesn't come on Sunday, and we had just left the camp. Every day he checked the mail until he got the letter," said Alison.
Then on December 14, that letter finally. Ir read, in part:
"It's an exciting thing for him. He's worked very hard for it and for me to see him succeed in that way, I just feel it's so awesome for him," said Bill.
"That is very exciting for me to go. I want to go to Seattle," said Will. "That is the next level of winning."
Will already has about 20 different medals from various swim meets he has won over the years and he says each means something to him. "That means to win, you go to win," said Will.
Will says he plans to bring some medals back from Seattle. He's competing in the 25 and 50 meter free style, back stroke and butterfly. It's why he has lots of practice to get in before the big event in July.
Will's younger brother, Nick, is also a swimmer. He swims for Episcopal High, and the two enjoy racing each other.
Will turns 18 this year and it's something his parents can't believe, what a journey it's been so far. "For other people in that situation, enjoy the moment. It's a cool trip. Your child will achieve the things he wants to achieve. He can achieve anything he wants to, it's just on his time frame," said Bill.
Will has achieved what he wanted to. We asked him why. "I got my three reasons. Reason one, I love my parents. Reason two, I love my passion of swimming, and third one is I love to eat food," said Will.
If you would like to help Will get to Seattle, you can donate by clicking here.