TODAY   |  August 20, 2013

Despite MS, swimming teacher inspires her kids

Pat Knisley is a swimming teacher from New Bern, N.C., whose enthusiasm and love have inspired thousands of young students. Despite a 20-year battle with multiple sclerosis and the recent loss of her husband, Knisley continues to get kids in the swim. NBC’s Bob Dotson reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> today's american story with bob dotson . this comes from north carolina where bob found a swimming coach that cares more about kids than a winning team.

>> fwoorngood morning. the coach is teaching more than how to compete. the coach is teaching us a lesson in life.

>> ready sunshine.

>> reporter: you might sit on the sidelines of life. pat believes you don't have to stay there. in this city surrounded by sea, pat wants every child to learn how to swim. she has taught thousands.

>> remember. i'm old and i'm --

>> tired.

>> tired, take it easy on me.

>> reporter: she helps the children that were overlooked. lindsey still remembers the ms. pat look that got her into the pool.

>> show them the look.

>> reporter: she was a stubborn 7-year-old with down syndrome.

>> ms. pat wanted the kids to learn the stroke, do it correctly, and do the best they could.

>> practice makes permanent.

>> reporter: lindsey did better than all right.

>> this one is my favorite one.

>> are you any good?

>> i'm good, yeah.

>> reporter: she has won 78 state and national championships .

>> ms. pat doesn't do that. she never took one of them to the side and like oh you're different.

>> reporter: kristen wall now trains dolphins. she learned how to swim with lindsey . neither was treated like thin glass.

>> okay, you get the middle right there. do like a 100 free style kick and warm up a little bit.

>> reporter: pat knows the pain of life turned inward. your ribs and now you're going to push forward and backward.

>> reporter: multiple sclerosis put her in a wheelchair years ago.

>> i can't imagine living my life without ms. you learn a lot about who you are.

>> reporter: like any winner, ms. pat doesn't give up.

>> kick, kick, kick.

>> reporter: but perhaps the finest lesson she teaches is how to handle loss. in 2012 her husband jim was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer . the boy she met at 16 and married at 18 was given just a few months to live.

>> i don't see a 61-year-old man. i still see that 16-year-old kid.

>> who still sends her cards signed with a short hand message.

>> i am madly in love with you and can't live without you.

>> reporter: over the years they learned that a successful marriage requires falling in love many times with the same person.

>> it never mattered to you how much i weighed or even if i could walk.

>> reporter: together they raised a house full of kids.

>> and there, there's you with the two of us and the look on your face says what did i just do.

>> reporter: and all those swimmers.

>> hey mr. joe. how are you?

>> reporter: the children who had once been overlooked did not overlook them.

>> we would come home from radiation and the lawn is mowed.

>> reporter: they taught them the heart of living. three days after this tender moment, jim died.

>> he's around me always. always.

>> reporter: the best of jim lives on in her. life can be frightening.

>> my little cannon ball . come on.

>> reporter: pat believes it's up to us to make it beautiful. all these lessons from a woman that had never been to a swim meet before she started teaching at 37.