COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.-- For the second time in her illustrious 11-year career, swimmer Erin Popovich (Silverbow, Mont.) has been named the U.S. Olympic Committee's Paralympian of the Year.
In her third Paralympic Games, Popovich collected four gold medals and two silver and brought her career total to 14 gold medals and five silver medals. In Beijing, she earned gold medals in the 100-meter freestyle (S7), 400-meter freestyle (S7), 100-meter breaststroke (SB7) and 200-meter individual medley (SM7), along with silver medals in the 50-meter butterfly (S7) and 50-meter freestyle (S7). Popovich also was the 2004 USOC Paralympian of the Year. In 2005, she was named the Women's Sports Foundation’s Individual Sportswoman of the Year and won an ESPY award for Best Female Athlete with a Disability. She has also been honored by Swimming World magazine.
Popovich took some time out of her busy schedule to sit-down for a Q & A with U.S. Paralympics:
Q: How does it feel to be named Paralympian of the Year for the second time?
A: It is a tremendous honor to be named Paralympian of the Year by the USOC. Beijing was amazing and I had a wonderful time. To be recognized amongst so many great performances that the US delegation had while in Beijing is awesome. I could not have been successful in Beijing if it wasn't for my teammates, coaches, and family that were there supporting me and the US team.
Q: How was your experience in Beijing different from your other Paralympic Games experiences?
A: Beijing was above and beyond any Games I've been to. China hosted an amazing Games that emphasized everything that the Paralympic movement stands for. The people were friendly and helpful. I had a great time and being able to swim in the Water Cube topped everything off.
Q: What is your favorite memory of the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games?
A: I have lots of memories from Beijing, but my favorite would have to be standing on the medal stand receiving my medals, because I stand there proud of what I've accomplished but also proud to represent our country, my team, my family, and all the hard work that went into reaching my goals. It’s an amazing feeling to see the US flag raised above all others and hear our national anthem being played.
Q: What is the best competition moment of your entire career?
A: The best moment of my career was back in 2004 in Athens on the final night of swimming. I had just gone 7 for 7 [seven gold medals in seven races] and the final race was our women’s relay. We won gold for the first time in the history of our team. Being able to stand on the medal podium with my 3 other teammates and share the victory with them was a great way to finish an unbelievable meet.
Q: What is your typical training session like?
A: My training sessions vary depending on what part of the season I'm in. I usually do nine 2-hour sessions in the pool each week with an additional three days of weight training and cardio plus a half hour of dry-land training five days a week. It can be daunting, but it’s always a good feeling to be able to look back at the week and see how much I’ve accomplished.
Q: How did you first get involved in Paralympic swimming?
A: I went to a Dwarf Athletic Association of America swim meet at their annual convention. Some people involved with Paralympics were at the meet and told me I should get involved. When I got back home, I joined a swim team in my hometown. My coaches looked into the Paralympics and found out I was making qualifying times for the national meets. Within six months of beginning to swim I competed at my first national meet and qualified for my first World Championship team in 1998.
Q: How has being active in sports helped you in your everyday life?
A: Swimming has taught me a great deal about myself. Swimming keeps me focused on what I need to do and get done, or time management. I always did better in school when I was working hard in the pool. It made me a strong individual who can accomplish anything that I set out to do. It’s helped me stay healthy and fit. I would not have the opportunities that I do today if swimming was not a part of my life.
Q: Do you plan on training for and competing in the 2012 Paralympic Games in London?
A: I plan to continue to train and work towards the 2012 Games. It’s four long years away but when I remember what it felt like to stand atop the medal podium, it motivates me to work that much harder to be on the podium once again.