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The Most Decorated Athlete You’ve Never Heard Of: Meet 55-Time Medalist Trischa Zorn-Hudson

By Paul D. Bowker | March 23, 2016, 11:39 a.m. (ET)

The 55 medals won by Paralympic Hall of Fame swimmer Trischa Zorn-Hudson are incredible on their own merit.

But consider this: For three Paralympic Games and part of a fourth, spread over some 12 years, Zorn-Hudson had never won a silver medal. She had only won gold — 25 times.

She was unbeaten in every individual Paralympic race from 1980 until 1992, when teammate Elizabeth Scott finally knocked her into a silver medal with a world-record performance at the Barcelona Games.

Blind since birth, Zorn-Hudson is the most decorated Paralympian in history with 55 medals in seven Paralympic Games. She finished her prestigious swimming career at age 40 by winning a bronze medal in the women’s 100-meter backstroke at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games.

Following that historic moment in Athens, Zorn-Hudson ended her career with 41 gold medals, nine silvers and five bronzes. She remains an inspiration to Paralympians and the disabled all over the world.

USA Swimming established the annual Trischa L. Zorn Award in 2000, which honors a swimmer with a disability who has achieved international and national excellence.

Zorn-Hudson’s contributions didn’t stop in the pool.

Once serving as a teacher in Indianapolis inner city schools, Zorn-Hudson wanted to make a difference with disabled kids.

“I thought with what I have overcome with my disability that if I could just reach these children in the inner city … that I could be a good role model for them and that would satisfy me,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 1995.

Zorn-Hudson has been an athlete representative on the United States Olympic Committee’s Athletes Advisory Council. She mentored and helped American military service members get involved in Paralympic sports and other activities through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In 1993, she was named female athlete of the year by the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes, and in 1994 was named one of the nation’s top 10 female athletes of the year by the USOC. Eighteen years later, in 2012, she was inducted as the first American woman into the Visa Paralympic Hall of Fame.

“I see people who come back (from military tours) with injuries and it really inspires me to make them appreciate what they have and to make them understand that whatever you set your mind to, you can do,” she said during her induction in London. “U.S. Paralympics and the IPC have really made that possible for everyone.”

Zorn-Hudson began swimming alongside sighted swimmers at the age of 10 with the Mission Viejo Nadadores swim club in Southern California. It took her just six years to make her Paralympic debut, winning seven gold medals and setting three world records in the Arnhem 1980 Paralympic Games in the Netherlands. After graduating from Mission Viejo High School, she was a four-time All-American in the women’s backstroke at Nebraska.

In addition to winning that final bronze medal in Athens, she finished her career by serving as the U.S. flag bearer for the Closing Ceremony of the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games.

Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1990. He is Olympics editor and Assistant Sports Editor at the Cape Cod Times in Massachusetts. Bowker has written for TeamUSA.org since 2010 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.