Jacksonville swimmer aims for dream in city where he lost sight

19-year-old blinded as child in shooting that killed older brother

By Ashley Harding - Reporter, Francine Frazier - Senior web producer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Competitive swimmer Ross Minor says he feels most alive and at home in the water.

He should. It's in his blood. His mother swam in the Junior Olympics.

Minor, 19, is hoping to also represent his country -- in the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

The University of North Florida computer major will swim a qualifying meet at 9 a.m. Saturday in Charlotte, North Carolina -- the last place where his eyes saw his mother's face.

Minor was living with his family in Charlotte when he and his older brother were attacked by their father in June 2006. Minor was 8 years old. 

"He shot me in my sleep, shot my brother, Ryan, and then committed suicide,” Minor said.

Ryan, 10, died at the hospital. Minor lost his left eye, all the vision in his right eye and his sense of smell. 

He said the support of his community was overwhelming.

"I actually kind of like hospitals,” Minor said. “I have good memories of hospitals because of my friends visiting me."

After the attack, Minor and his mother, Grace Greene, moved several times before ending up in Florida. He graduated from Bishop Snyder High School on Jacksonville’s Westside, but he never stopped thinking about his older brother.

Growing up without him wasn't easy, Minor said.

“I would look at other people at school and all their brothers and sisters and their moms and dads and their families going out and about,” Minor said. “And I'm just like, 'Wow, I've got a mom and a dog. That's it.'”

It was heartbreaking for Greene to see her son's struggles.
 
"People automatically thought that the hardest thing would be the fact that I lost my one son,” she said. “But the harder thing was to watch Ross go through it every day. Every day was a living reminder of it.”  

Minor found his purpose in the pool.

"I just listen to the water and get lost in my thoughts. Sometimes I get so lost in my thoughts that I forget what set I'm doing, and I keep swimming when I'm supposed to stop swimming and take a break," Minor said. "It's like a comfort zone for me."

He credits his mom for pushing him and admits that swimming without the advantage of sight can be nerve-racking at times.
  
"I can't see where I'm going, and I'm putting my trust in my coach to tap me on the back when I'm supposed to flip turn,” Minor explained. “If he messes up, I run into the wall."

Minor performs every stroke and lap with focus and determination, not allowing fear to match his drive to meet his goal.

By his side through all of it is his guide dog, Dixie. She goes everywhere with Minor, including the pool, though she usually tries to stay dry.

Ross Minor with Dixie

"A lot of guide dogs are very mellow. Even outside, when they're not working,” Minor said. “Dixie is very spirited and just very friendly.”
 
Minor has not allowed anything to slow him down. He's even tried extreme sports with the group Extreme Mobility Camps Inc., which empowers people who are blind through participation in action sports and other activities. 

Minor also shares his story and uploads videos to his YouTube channel to help others who are blind learn computer skills.

He said he's looking forward to returning to Charlotte this weekend and showing the people in his hometown just how far he's come. 
 
"For them to help me out in my time of need, when I went blind ... me becoming a Paralympic swimmer, or me going to college -- that was the result of them just being there for me in the hospital,” Minor said. "(Going back) just gives me chills and makes me so excited.”

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