The aquatic center at the Parapan American Games, built to hold about 8,000 people, attracted capacity crowds. It was August of 2007, and Beth’s first competition in front of an enormous and enthusiastic audience. She chose the forward freestyle during free races instead of the backstroke of most of her competitors in the S3 classification.
In both the 100 and 200 free, she earned silver medals.
Beth swam the 50 free in prelims with a time five seconds slower than usual after a freak injury. She dislocated her big toe falling into the pool. She felt less discomfort than I would have in the same situation, but pain nonetheless. Beth’s body also quickly reacted with strong leg spasms that dragged her speed down during the race. Right after, the team doctor for the USA manipulated the toe back in place.
She returned to the pool that evening for finals to earn a bronze medal in the same event.
With the forward freestyle, Beth drew a breath on the right side on every other stroke, so she could see a swimmer only in the lane to her right—if they swam at a similar speed. Legs dragged behind her, as always, but after years of strengthening and positioning her trunk, her legs stayed close to the surface of the water instead of angling all the way down where they would slow her down more.
Another day, Beth’s 50 back ended unexpectedly.
Her double-arm backstroke technique continued to be faster than alternating arms. In a close race, she touched the wall before all of the rest, including the swimmer from Mexico who held the IPC World Record for the event. I wish I had been there.
During the medal ceremony, Beth wheeled on a ramp to the tallest stand. Wearing gold around her neck and holding beautiful flowers, she rode a wave of emotion and patriotism as the USA national anthem played loudly—for her. Spectators treated the swimmers like celebrities, cheering loudly when Beth gave her flower bouquet to a local girl in the stands.
“Hearing our national anthem while on the podium is something I will never forget,” Beth said. “Rio was an absolutely amazing experience.”
Next: Back to the real world!
The Parapan American Games are held once every four years. In August of 2007, the games took place in Rio de Janeiro.
That year, Brazil hosted 1,150 athletes from 25 countries.
When the team landed in Rio, security hurried them from the plane to the terminal because of gang shootings across the runways. They arrived early for swim training and to get over jet lag.
Beth’s coach, Peggy, led the U.S. Paralympics Swimming Team as Head Coach for the first time. The team of 14 swimmers voted Beth Co-Captain. Julie O’Neill, promoted to the top spot in U.S. Paralympics, told an Ohio reporter, “Beth just has a great personality. She’s dedicated, intelligent. She’s got all these pieces, and she’s one of the athletes we look to for leadership.”
“She’s an incredibly positive person,” Peggy added, “and it rubs off on people she comes in contact with.”
Peggy led team-building activities, a few repeated from Beth’s high school and SAK teams. Out of the pool, one involved dividing into groups and picking one in each to chew the most gum as quickly as possible. In the pool, Beth grabbed the ankles of a swimmer ahead of her as they raced a lap. The team played water polo in the deep end while Beth bobbed and treaded water. They also raced with funny strokes. I followed the trip in email newsletters from U.S. Paralympics. They included quotes from the athletes, including Beth.
“I am really excited about being here, and I am very honored to serve as the captain for the women’s team. It is a great learning experience for all of us.”
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