Day 1 of U.S. Paralympics Swimming National Championships Concludes – Team USA

by Lisa Costantini
ORLANDO, Fla. — The U.S. Paralympics Swimming National Championships in Florida commenced on Friday, spanning three days and already breaking world records on the first day.

The impressive accolades belonged to Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 gold medalist, Gia Pergolini in the women’s 50-meter backstroke S13 and world championships silver medalist Morgan Ray in the men’s 200-meter breaststroke S6.

While the meet was not a direct qualifier for the Paralympic Games Paris 2024, the last event of the 2023 season is an important one as it provides athletes an opportunity to improve their standings before the chance to compete at the upcoming U.S. Paralympic Team Trials — Swimming takes place in June in Minneapolis.

The Rosen Aquatic & Fitness Center in Orlando was the site for the national championships, and succeeded the 2023 Parapan American Games in Santiago, Chile, that took place from Nov. 17-26.

For Taylor Winnett — who was the most decorated U.S. athlete at Parapans with seven medals — she admitted to not being fully rested after the tolls of the recent international competition. Despite that she was still able to come away with a second-place finish on Friday in the 100m butterfly S8-S14.

With a couple of national championships already under her belt, she said she is looking at this weekend as a place to “have fun, connect with younger athletes, practice racing and make some new friends.”

U.S. Para resident coach, George Leatherman, was impressed with how the team was able to mentally and physically prepare for nationals so soon after competing internationally at Parapans. “We only had two weeks to turn around and prepare for this, so to see time drops and some best times – or even close to best times – is phenomenal,” he said.  “We’re pretty excited.”

Braxton Wong, 18, was one of the athletes who managed to drop time on day one. He said it helped, that he had the experience of Santiago and his first international meet behind him. “Since I’ve been to the Para Pans now, coming to this meet my nerves have been a lot better.”

It showed. He dropped one second off his time in the 400m freestyle S6-S14, coming in third.

With 2024 just around the corner, there is a lot to look forward to in the new year. For Winnett, who is currently living and training at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the 24-year-old is hoping to land a spot on the team headed to Paris.

“Next year is an important year for me,” she shared. “We have Paralympic Trials in June and the Games in the fall. My hope for Paris is for the opportunity to represent my country. Where I’m at right now I think I have a good shot.”

For newer athletes, like Caitlyn Trevor, 20, who was swimming for Down Syndrome Sports of America, she was wanting to “push myself as hard as I can and get better and faster.” Her hope for 2024 is that it’s a year full of records and PBs (personal bests) — “everything I’ve ever wanted,” she said.

When the National Championships concludes on Sunday night, over 100 athletes will have taken their positions on the starting blocks. Finals are being live streamed on the U.S. Paralympics Swimming website and Facebook page.

Lisa Costantini has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for more than a decade, including for the International Olympic Committee. She is a freelance writer who has contributed to since 2011.
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