Sophia Herzog reacts after winning the 200 meter individual medley during the 2016 U.S. Paralympic Trials Swimming at Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center on July 2, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Sophia Herzog said she has regained her sense of purpose.
This is thanks, in part, to her swimming again, with an eye toward qualifying for next summer’s Paralympic Games. And that process has gotten a little bit easier with some help from the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF).
Herzog, a silver medalist from the Paralympic Games Rio 2016, recently became one of 52 athletes to receive a Travel & Training Fund grant from the WSF and sponsor Gatorade. First awarded in 1984, the fund has helped over 1,500 athletes and teams fund their athletic efforts.
“I’m so grateful for the Women’s Sports foundation and Gatorade for allowing me to receive this grant,” she said. “It’s going to help me get to trials next year, as trials can be pretty pricey.”
The fund is designed to support elite women athletes as they face the sometimes-prohibitive costs of coaches, travel and other necessities. Para swimmers on the U.S. national team receive a monthly stipend for their elite status, but Herzog said it is just enough to cover her coach, travel, rent and food. Swimming is her only source of income.
Herzog is not a member of a local team that might otherwise offer some level of coaching support. She said the grant will be used to pay for her travel to the U.S. Paralympic Trials for Swimming next year, the qualifier for the Tokyo 2020 Games, something for which she otherwise would not receive any assistance.
“This (grant) will take a huge stressor off my plate of going into a high-stress meet of not having to worry about how I’m going to afford to get myself there,” she said.
Herzog was 19 when she competed at the trials four years ago. She said her parents helped her out at the time. Now times are different.
“They helped me out tremendously,” she said. “This will be the first one that I’m really on my own. I’m adult now.”
Herzog lives with her boyfriend. When the pandemic first hit, he still went into work, while she was not able to swim. Her local pools were closed down, and she did not train from March to June. She does not have a job on the side. With pools closed, this left Herzog at home, missing swimming.
“A couple weeks went by that I was just moping around the house, because I had no purpose, and that was really odd for me to go through.”
She added: “It was super scary in a sense. It was in that time when they were trying to figure out what they were going to do with the Games. If they were going to cancel, postpone it or how long they were going to postpone it. So it was kind of scary. My life was ripped from under me. It was in the hands of a lot of different people, and they were going to decide essentially what my next year looked like. I’ve never felt those feelings of not having a purpose.”
She started swimming in a river to imitate exercising.
“The swimming in the river was more along the lines of the mentality that I still had a purpose.”
Herzog said pools in her area recently closed again, and she decided to move back to the United States Olympic and Paralympic Training Center (USOPTC) in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She will live there as a temporary resident for the time being.
She will miss her boyfriend and Odie, their newly adopted dog that is a mix of great Pyrenees, cattle dog and lab. Not long ago, Herzog had left the USOPTC after five years, but she is excited to revisit the campus’s longer pools.
“I’m super excited be back in a long-course training, which we compete in at the Paralympics,” she said. ““I’m super excited to be in that environment.”
Herzog recently competed in a virtual swim meet through Great Britain, and she swam in front of a local girls’ team. Her coach, then, videotaped Herzog’s performance, and shared the video with competition administrators.
Herzog was satisfied with how she swam, and she was glad to have had the opportunity to showcase what a professional swimming career looks like to younger athletes.
“Swimming is my job,” Herzog said. “That’s what I do for a living, it’s my life. These girls are kind of swimming for fun. It’s kind of fun to be around that energy, and it’s kind of reminded myself that swimming is fun, and this is why I started it.”