- Associated Press - Saturday, July 19, 2014

GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. (AP) - Gabe Marsh was born that way, but thinks nothing of it. He doesn’t see himself as handicapped or disabled. He only looks at his abilities.

It takes only a minute to watch him and the pity turns to admiration.

The 10-year-old Guntersville boy scoots around, easily moving from the ground to a chair, but it’s in the swimming pool that he seems to soar.

Gabe has become popular at swim meets around the state and people love to watch him swim.

“It seems like everybody is cheering for Gabe, even if their kids are swimming against him,” his mother, Ann Marsh, said.

His one arm is strong as it strokes through the water. It’s difficult to see that he has no legs under the water because he glides much like the others in his category.

Sometimes he has beaten the kids in his category with two legs and two arms, but he hopes to rise above his competitors in the Paralympics.

He recently went to Colorado Springs, where he competed in the Jimmy Flowers Classic.

Swimming is something his mother, an avid swimmer, never envisioned for her son.

He is one of 12 kids of Ed and Ann Marsh, who have been married 46 years.

Ann grew up in California and was always around water. She moved to the area as a teenager, and she and Ed, a Guntersville native, met in high school.

“She thought we talked funny and I thought she did,” Ed said.

They had two sons, Eddie and Michael. They both were involved in all kinds of sports and activities. After the boys grew up and moved away from home, they felt the empty-nest syndrome.

“If they were shooting marbles, we were going to be there watching,” Ed said.

Ann said she could not have more children.

“I had always wanted a girl,” she said.

Ed said they prayed about adoption for a year, and hit many obstacles with that. They eventually became foster parents and adopted their oldest daughters.

“We felt so blessed we started taking in more children,” Ann said.

The Marshes have been foster parents for 57 children.

“I think God had a sense of humor,” Ed said. “We prayed for one and he gave us seven, including three boys.”

They adopted Kristi and Alisha, the oldest girls. Kristi no longer lives at home and Alisha is in college.

Colby is 19 and just left on a mission trip to Montana.

Heather is 15 and Haily is 15. Will is 14, Gabe is 10 and twins Zoey and Ivey are 8.

Many of the children who have lived with the Marshes have special needs, including Will, who has Down Syndrome.

“They called us because they knew we would take them,” Ann said.

So it was no real surprise when Ann received the call about Gabe. He was 3 days old.

“I asked them what was wrong with him and they said he had no legs and only one arm,” Ann said. “I couldn’t say anything. I just sat there.”

So she called Ed at work and told him to pray about it. “He wanted to know what was wrong with him and I wouldn’t tell him,” she said. “I said ‘I’m not going to tell you.’”

He recalls that moment with tears as he explains how he went in his office and closed the door.

“I sat down and started talking to The Lord and He said, ‘Haven’t I always blessed you?’ And I got peace with it.”

He said he knew before he told Ann that she would come home with him.

“I was going to that hospital just to look at him, but I knew before I went that I’d bring him home,” she said.

He was an adorable, black-headed little 4-pound bundle, she said.

“He had just about as much hair when he was born as he does now,” his dad said.

Gabe’s safety was a concern for Ann. “I thought ‘How am I going to put him in a car seat and he be safe,’” she said. So she tucked some extra blankets around him and took him home.

But adapting to care for Gabe was much easier than they expected. A foster girl they had with spinal bifida was much more difficult to care for, they said.

Ann said she reached out to Child Find, an organization that helps with therapy and how to care for him. They only came for about a year and a half. “He was already doing what he wanted to do and they said there wasn’t really anything else they could do,” she said.

Soon the twins came along, and that was the best therapy he could have had, Ed said.

Gabe was still young enough that he doesn’t remember, but Ann said she had the twins in the backyard pool, teaching them how to swim. Gabe would play around on the steps and one day he just started swimming toward them. “I never thought that he could even do it,” she said.

She talked to the lady who gives the children lessons so he could learn the breathing techniques.

He joined the swim team at age 5. “The first time I saw him swim in a competition I just squalled,” Ann said.

He has competed in various competitions through the years and recently became involved in Paralympic events. Their next trip is to California in September to swim in a Paralympic competition.

It’s Gabe’s goal to compete in the Paralympics in 2016 in Rio De Janeiro.

There’s no age limit and the competition is based on abilities.

The categories are from one through 15, with one being the most limited physical abilities. Gabe is in Category 4, his mother said.

Some in Category 1 have no legs or arms or other issues.

Category 15 has kids who have their arms and legs but have limitations with muscles and those types of issues, Ann said.

Gabe has gained a lot of confidence through swimming, his mother said. He can do it because he believes he can, she said.

Does Gabe believe there is anything he can’t do?

“Play baseball,” he said sadly.

“It’s just because they won’t let you,” his father said.

He has learned to drive the twins’ four-wheeler and follows them up a tree they climb.

“He takes that nub and can do just about anything with it,” Ed said.

The twins, Heather and Haily, also swim and Ivey plays softball.

Heather is a varsity cheerleader and Haily plays junior varsity basketball.

“There’s never a dull moment for us,” Ann said.

She doesn’t expect things to calm down anytime soon.

“It’s been an interesting road,” she said.


Information from: The Gadsden Times, http://www.gadsdentimes.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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