Morton girl inspires Olympian Michael Phelps

By Marc Strauss

July 27, 2012 Updated Jul 27, 2012 at 10:40 PM CDT

MORTON, Ill. -- Kristin Koch of Morton enjoys playing catch but for the next two weeks, she's focusing on the pool, where her friend Michael Phelps will try to add to his Olympic resume.

"He's nice," said Kristin. "I got a cap from Michael."

He gave her that cap 7 years ago, one he'd worn competing in the Olympics.

The gift came when Kristin was 13. The Make-A-Wish Foundation flew Kristin and her family to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to spend the day with Phelps.

"We were with him from 9 o'clock in the morning until 11 o'clock at night," recalled Kristin's mother, Tonya Koch. "We got to watch him train with the other Olympic athletes and then he spent an hour in the pool with Steve and the kids."

They even went out for pizza afterwards.

Tonya Koch called the experience uplifting for her daughter, who has battled through several health issues since she was born.

"She has Down Syndrome, she was born with three holes in her heart and she's had two open-heart surgeries," explained Tonya. "Her heart is extremely good right now. She was also born with a lung disease called primary ciliary dyskinesia, which mimics cystic fibrosis."

As it turned out, Kristin's courage wasn't just an inspiration to her family. Phelps also drew strength from it.

Two days before the Koch's visited he had told his mother he was thinking about leaving Michigan and taking a break from competitive swimming.

"In an ESPN magazine article a couple of months later, we read that he was impressed with Kristin," said Tonya. "He talked about how she just loved to be in the pool and she swam for the love of swimming and how he needed to get back to that a little bit after being such a celebrity in the Olympics."

Kristin's day spent with Michael Phelps may have changed history. For both of them.

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