If you see Chris Facenda-Torres walking down the street or standing in a corridor at school and you notice a prosthetic on his left leg, he is not looking for your sympathy nor does he want it. Just say hi and move on because that is what Chris has done.
When Facenda-Torres was born, his left foot didn’t develop normally and consequently was amputated just above the ankle. So living with just one foot is something that Chris is used to and it has not hindered him in becoming the captain of the George Washington Carver High School of Engineering & Science swimming team.
“My leg doesn’t define what I can do,” Facenda-Torres said. “There is one thing that does bother me when people say about my leg, ‘Oh man, I’m sorry. Oh, I’m sorry you got that, man. How did that happen? Oh man, I’m sorry. That stinks.’ No, it doesn’t stink. I think it’s a unique thing that I probably wouldn’t have it any other way and swimming has really highlighted that for me. Even though I have this, it doesn’t define me.”
Facenda-Torres grew up near Virginia Beach and along the Outer Banks of North Carolina. In elementary school, he played baseball and soccer, but eventually was drawn to swimming. He was almost always near water growing up, so swimming came naturally.
His family moved to Pennsylvania just over five years ago. He lived in the Poconos, then moved to Whitehall, just north of Allentown. A physical education teacher during his freshman year at Whitehall High School encouraged him to join the swimming team, but an operation on his leg that year prevented it.
When he came to E&S as a sophomore, he found out that the Engineers had a swimming team and the rest is history.
“With Chris being on the team, just the drive and motivation that he has to succeed and better himself, it’s just something that’s so magnetic,” Engineers coach Brian Beaton said. “He really draws people to him. He’s a natural-born leader and at the same time, he’s one of these people that doesn’t have a whole lot to say at times. He can (lead) without saying a whole lot.
“But as far as trying to get himself better, he’s a workhorse. Whenever he’s in practice, he wants to push himself more and more and more and more. But at the same time, he’s always about WE have to get better. How can I help you get better? What can I do for you? So even though he wants to win, even though he wants to better himself, he’s always thinking of others first.”
His main event is the 50-yard freestyle where his best time is 26.70 seconds. He also competes in the 100-yard freestyle where his best time is 1 minute, 2 seconds and the 200-yard freestyle relay. In the sprints, he can use his arms and shoulders for propulsion and his missing foot is not much of a factor.
“I still have my right leg, so I’m still able to kick with that,” Chris said. “But I think, personally for me as a swimmer, most of my strength comes from the upper body, my arms and my shoulders. I can still kick with my leg. My left leg doesn’t really do too much for me in the water. It kind of just drags along.
”I guess the only real difference is in diving. When you’re diving, you have your back foot on the wall. So for me, I just kind of lift it up so I can get that height and I just got to really push off with my front foot and my hands. But other than that, it’s the same for anybody else.”
He has also competed in the backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and the 200-yard individual medley relay. He qualified for the PIAA District XII championships in each of the last two years and is looking forward to making a splash at the Public League championships.
Facenda-Torres is well known in the Public League and takes some good-natured kidding which he welcomes.
“I’m able to get in the water and win a race and then have the kids tell me after, ‘Man, I got beat by a kid with one leg,’” Facenda-Torres said. “People say, ‘Dude, you’re famous in the Public League. Everybody knows the kid with one leg even though we don’t know your name.’ The kid with one leg.”
In addition to swimming, Chris is the senior class president and is involved with Student Government. He also participates in the Philosophy Club, the Spanish Club and the Fellowship Club.
College is definitely in Facenda-Torres’ future. He has been accepted at Penn State Abington and plans on going there in the fall. He was also accepted at Arcadia and Millersville Universities and is still waiting to hear from four other schools. He hopes swimming will still be in his future.
“I definitely want to keep swimming,” Facenda-Torres said. “It’s not something I just want to give up after I graduate.”
Chris will definitely be missed when he moves on in the fall. But perhaps nobody will miss him more than his coach.
“He’s the type of kid where if you had him on your team and you had 20 more like that, you could lose every game and you wouldn’t care,” Beaton said. “It would be enjoyable.”