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The spring sunshine brightened my view. I ran low on my anti-depressant with no refills, so I gradually discontinued the Zoloft and packed for a long weekend abroad.
Beth headed back to Boston's Logan airport in May for her first overseas trip, a month after the Michigan meet. She accepted her invitation to the inaugural Paralympic World Cup in Manchester, England. British Paralympics paid the travel expenses for every athlete and coach attending from around the world, with funds from their national lottery.
Peggy and I flew to Manchester on our own dimes, though she had started the process to become a U.S. Paralympics coach. I had been to England during my summer as an exchange student in Norway, but only in the London area. We explored Manchester’s stunning town square and massive historic buildings.
The large pool complex held teams and spectators from every corner of the world.
The World Cup was Beth’s first official meet as a member of Team USA. She didn’t request a personal care assistant for the trip because she didn’t require one, but I missed being with her in the hotel, the locker room, and on deck. Like others on the USA team, even those with better-working hands and arms, Beth squeezed in and out of a new tight leg suit with help from team coaches who called themselves “hiney hikers.”
Beth’s hotel bed in Manchester was too high for her to get in it independently. She asked a teammate to remove her twin mattress and prop it along a wall. She slept on the hard box springs to avoid asking for help to get into bed. I didn’t find out until after the trip.
It felt strange for Peggy and me to be spectators in the upper stands instead of in the middle of things on deck. She couldn’t sit still and often watched the meet standing up. Beth competed in the 100 freestyle in a mixed heat with swimmers in higher classifications. She reset her American Record in the event, swimming her fastest stroke, the back, during freestyle races.
For Beth’s big race, the 50-meter backstroke, Peggy and I watched S3 swimmers wheel or walk to the starting blocks while the announcer introduced them to the overflowing crowd. A wide range of disability was apparent, including cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, and limb differences. In a perfect world, they all had identical functional abilities.
Beth held the world ranking of eighth in the 50 back. She took her place in a full heat of S3 female swimmers for the first time.
A rare race with true competitors.
After the buzzer sounded, she could see the swimmer in the next lane moving at a similar pace —also a first for Beth. I stood up and cheered as she picked up her pace, touching the wall in time to earn an unexpected third place bronze medal.
After the race, officials “tagged” Beth for random drug testing. They followed her to the cool down pool and then to the staging area to be presented with her medal. Kiko, a friendly U.S. Paralympics coach, stayed with her and other teammates being tested, while the rest of the team returned to the hotel.
Beth’s times moved her up in the IPC World Rankings to sixth in the 50 backstroke and seventh in both the 50 and 100 freestyle.
The last evening at the first World Cup, Team USA celebrated the meet with a pub dinner of fish, chips, and mushy peas. Beth’s food tastes broadened, leaving behind her childhood staple of macaroni and cheese for late night pad Thai with tofu and veggies on Mass Ave, spinach salads in the freshman dining hall, and sushi in Harvard Square.
Back home, Peggy shared her thoughts on the World Cup with a reporter. “It’s quite an accomplishment to see Beth take her swimming to such a high level in such a short period of time and know that she is still improving. This was the first international meet for Beth to swim in a whole heat of like disability classifications from all over the world. To place third and earn a Bronze medal is just incredible. There is a big horizon ahead for Beth.”
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