With just over 50 days until the start of the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Swimming World Championships in Montreal, Canada, six members of the 2013 U.S. Paralympics Swimming World Team ― Victoria Arlen, Cody Bureau, Tucker Dupree, Cortney Jordan, Colleen Young and Justin Zook― fielded questions from fans on everything from their typical training days to the perception of adaptive athletes.
How often you train a week?
Victoria Arlen: I train about seven times a week. In that week, I get in about six sessions of in pool training and five sessions of dry land training.
Cody Bureau: I swim every morning from 7-9 a.m. except Sunday. Three days a week, I lift weights and have a second swim practice. I have nine swim practices and three lifting practices in a typical training week. It changes during competition.
Cortney Jordan: It depends on where I am in my training, usually about eight times a week I will swim for two hours. I swim Monday-Saturday, and will swim twice on Tuesday/Thursday or Monday/Wednesday. In addition to swim practices, I will also do an hour of dry land on the days that I swim once. I'll alternate between core work, running and biking.
What is a typical training day like?
Arlen: I just graduated high school so my training might change a bit. For a typical training day, I get up and eat breakfast. On weekdays, it is about 6 a.m. and on weekends, it is about 5 a.m. I always make sure I have a substantial breakfast in. Then on weekdays, I head to school until noon eat lunch then I go to meet with my trainer. From there, I grab a quick snack and head to the pool. On weekends I wake up at 5 swim from 6:30-8:30 a.m. then usually have a massage or time to chill and do normal "teenage" stuff such as hanging with friends and catching up on homework.
Jordan: It depends on the day, but usually I'll wake up and be in the water by 7 a.m. and I'll swim for two hours. I'll either go to the gym for an hour in the afternoon or I'll swim again in the afternoon around 4 p.m.
Colleen Young: I get up at 4:30 a.m. to go to practice at 5:30. After that, I go to school. Two out of six days involves some dry land workouts ―yoga and lifting weights. After school, I train in the pool for another 2 ½ hours. I have 11 practices a week and try to make them all.
What was it like to represent Team USA for the first time?
Bureau: I love to represent Team USA. The first time, it was slightly overwhelming realizing you were competing for one of the most recognized countries in the world. There is pressure to succeed.
Jordan: I'm not even sure if I can put it into words. I have grown up in a military family so I have always been taught to adore the United States. I was only 15 years old for my first IPC Swimming World Championships, but even then I was so honored to be a member of Team USA. In the 2008 Paralympic Games, I won gold in the 50-meter free. When I heard the national anthem play, I got goose bumps and my heart felt like it was glowing. It's incredible to feel like you've done something for your country and that you are a part of something bigger than yourself.
Young: Amazing. I felt lucky to be put into such a great opportunity. My first experience with Team USA was a trip to Greece with official U.S. coaches.
Justin Zook: My first chance to represent Team USA was back in 1998 at the IPC Swimming World Championships. I really feel as though the event was smaller than some of the competitions I had previously attended for USA Swimming. But wearing a Team USA uniform and suit was something special at the moment. I will never forget looking at my competition, myself being 12 and most of them in their 20s thinking “What am I doing here?" Being a part of a Paralympic Team in 2004 was a much more memorable experience for me. Walking into the stadium with 100,000 people screaming was insane during the Opening Ceremony. The first time I think I really realized what I had accomplished was when I got behind the block for my first race. I could not even begin to focus on what was about to happen. It was the first time I really was lost in the moment and was so thankful for the opportunity U.S. Paralympics had provided me.
What is your favorite meet to swim in every year?
Tucker Dupree: Julie, obviously competitive swimming is all about strong competition driving each athlete to this and her greatest expectation. Since this is a year of world championship, that is going to be my favorite meet of this year. Any option of me being able to compete at an abled bodied competition is also a great opportunity of racing for me.
Jordan: I don't think I have a specific meet that is my favorite. However, I love going to emerging meets and smaller Paralympic meets. I love participating in these meets because it is where it starts for lot of athletes. My first meet was a small meet in San Diego. At that meet, Michael DeMarco, another Paralympian, told me that I needed to continue on and go to nationals. I've been on the national team ever since. I want to help others like he helped me. When I go to the smaller meets, I can spend time talking to new athletes and inspire them to participate in the sport.
Young: My team has a meet two hours from home, which is my favorite. I like that all of my friends go and we hang out in between sessions at the mall, restaurants or movies.
Zook: Anything in warmer climate is always nice. A meet coming up in Colorado Springs this weekend is a meet I truly would not miss for anything― the Jimi Flowers Classic. This meet is a way of paying respect to an unbelievable coach, husband, father and friend for many of us, Jimi Flowers, and the proceeds go to his family.
What is your pre-race ritual?
Bureau: As a part of my pre-race rituals, I listen to music and think the race through or when I get nervous at larger meets, I try to think about being in the mountains. It is relaxing and peaceful.
Young: I like to eat sub sandwiches, stretch on the deck and talk with my friends. I always have the timers verify I'm behind the right block and I swing my arms as I approach the block.
Zook: As most swimmers or athletes, I listen to music before a race, usually a variety of music nothing specific. Recently, I have started carrying a picture of my family with me up to the blocks, as they are the ones who have always supported me and I know are cheering for me even though they may not be in the stands.
What do you eat before a race?
Dupree: Sara, I am a very big sandwich fan. I can eat a lot of feet of sub before and after sessions at meet.
Young: I always eat a sub sandwich.
How did you know you wanted to become a swimmer?
Young: I made great friends and could improve at every meet. I'm visually impaired so small ball sports did not work for me. Once I got into the pool, I knew I could swim and not be singled out because of my vision.
Zook: I had very little choice at the beginning of my swimming career. I started swimming as a form of physical therapy, which obviously turned into much more than that within the first few years of competing. I know many kids say they loved the water, but with me the water was the one place everything was equal. No judgment, no surgery, no needing to worry about what everyone else though, just back and forth trying to hit the wall before the person next to me.
How do you stay positive?
Arlen: Positive is something I've always been brought up to be. I just am constantly counting my blessings and putting things in perspective. I have an incredible support team that keeps me going. No need to be negative when each day is a blessing.
Bureau: Positive thinking leads to positive actions and good results. I’ve realized that being negative adds more frustration and it doesn’t help anything.
Dupree: Meghan, our sport is full of small successes that equal opportunities to stay positive with in the sport. The days that I am feeling the worst are the days I have to talk myself into the mindset of how I can get better from the small successes that would equal greater success in the future.
Young: I don't think about negative. I'm proud to work hard every day.
What is it about your respective sport that motivates you to work to be considered one of the best in the world?
Dupree: Mathew, my motivation within my sport comes from the fact that I didn't touch first every time I raced in finals at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
Jordan: I love to swim and I love my team. I don't think that I could continue and compete at the level I do if I didn't completely love the sport. Also, I have a fantastic support system with my family, my friends and my team. I've been on the national team for six years. I've grown up with these athletes. They are more than teammates to me. They are my family and my best friends. Their amazing stories motivate me to continue and truly do my best each day. It is an honor to be a part of such a loving and dedicated team.
Young: My success is determined by how much work I put into it and not anyone else. I swim for myself but when I represent the USA, I really want to be the very best. It's really a great honor to have the flag and my name on my swim caps.
Did you know any other disabled swimmers growing up?
Bureau: When I was 12, I swam with Rudy Garcia-Tolson and Jarrett Perry, who swam at multiple Paralympic Games. We became friends. When we grew up, we trained together. I did not know any disabled swimmers before that.
Young: I didn't know any until I went to my first U.S. Paralympics national meet in Texas. Now, I have some great friends that are differently-abled.
Zook: I did not know any other disabled swimmers until I started swimming in U.S. Paralympics sanctioned meets.
Other than counting strokes, how do blind swimmers know when they are nearing the end of the pool?
Dupree: Amy, completely blind swimmers use a form of a tapper to realize where they are close to the wall. I am visually impaired but I am not completely blind. I do count strokes but also use the peripheral vision that I have to see the color coding on the lane ropes to dictate where I am in the pool.
Do you have any advice on how to make visually impaired swimmers more comfortable with speed?
Dupree: Charles, competitive swimming is all about who can out their hand on the wall the fastest. When signing up for swimming and doing it at a competitive level, it is all about speed. You can't fear speed when you want to be that first person.
When it comes to people who are physically disabled, what can gyms or training facilities do a better job of to help them work out and be healthy?
Bureau: Other than more convenient access for wheelchair users and some modifications for blind athletes, when it comes to doing exercise, the best thing to do is just ask questions to veterans of the sport. I have been playing with ideas that could help in strengthening my left arm for about the past 10 years. I have found ways weird little things that work and I don’t mind helping someone struggling with a similar problem.
Dupree: Mauricio, I think that a person’s audacity and creativity is what will limit someone in this situation. It all comes down to the person with the disability being willing to try new things and adaptive equipment. There are a lot of different types of adaptive equipment that is available to people with disabilities for trying to manage a workout at any facility. There are great organizations like Challenged Athletes Foundation that have grants available to help financially to support people with disabilities to find ways to work out.
Zook: I think many times individuals who have requests for things to be different or changed just need to approach the situation properly. I would be surprised if many gyms or training facilities would not at least try to help accommodate an individual with a physical disability to better use their facility. As the Paralympic Movement grows, the opportunities for individuals with physical disabilities will only grow as well, which will hopefully lead to better gyms and training facilities featuring accessible amenities.
A lot of people are skeptical of the skill sets of Paralympic athletes. What are your biggest motivators against this and how do you keep those comments from getting in your way?
Arlen: Honestly, it's tough. You have to just say they don't know me or my situation so they are in no place to judge. No one will ever know until they see it from our view. I just stay true to myself and not let anything or anyone hurt me. I've been through too much to let some stranger bring me down. All I can keep saying is keep being true to yourself and do what makes you happy. Don't let people being you down.
Bureau: My little brother, who was raised similar to me, has just as hard of work ethic as I do. He swims for Virginia Tech. After barely missing trials in 2012, he is a 2016 Olympic hopeful. Every day, I do things more efficiently than some able-bodied people. They wonder how. I just tell them I am an elite level athlete.
Dupree: Kelsey, everyone has their own skill sets whether you are physically disabled or not. This does not get in my way, but motivates me to strive harder just to prove people wrong. People with physical disabilities have the ability to become the athletes if they push their bodies to the limit every training session.
Jordan: Honestly, I've never witnessed someone who was skeptical of a Paralympian's skill set. I think that anyone who watches a Paralympic event will realize that the athletes are incredible, determined, and just as talented as any other professional athlete. If someone made a negative comment to me about my skill or ability, I think it might just motivate me to push myself more. However, the bottom line is that I love to swim, to compete, to represent my country, and to be a member of my wonderful team. Therefore, I don't think any comment could ever change that or get in my way at all.
Zook: I do not blame people for being skeptical. They have very little information to go off of in the United States. The media coverage has gotten significantly better and the awareness is growing, but without being educated on Paralympics, people really have no idea what half of it all means. Between classification and the different rules for different sports, a lot can get lost in translation. In terms of the skill sets, I believe Paralympic athletes are elite level athletes who have made the most out of what they have been handed. Just like anyone else, the goal of all athletes is to reach your highest potential and some individuals potential is just higher than others. Ultimately, I think keeping everything in perspective is really important during each individuals journey in sports. If negative comments can change how I feel about the sport I love, then maybe I am not in it for the right reason anymore.