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Swimmer Trischa Zorn’s Paralympic Legacy Goes Beyond Her Staggering 55-Medal Haul

By Karen Price | Oct. 26, 2020, 3:50 p.m. (ET)

Trischa Zorn in action whilst winning a silver medal in the Womens 100m Breaststroke SB12 Final at the Sydney International Aquatic Centre during the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games.

 

Records are made to be broken, and Trischa Zorn knows that.

As the most decorated Paralympian of all time with a total of 55 medals in seven Paralympic Games throughout her swimming career, however, Zorn also has to admit that hers is going to be tough to beat.

“It’s hard to say but just because of the way the Games have evolved, and the way athletes have now become a lot more specialized I think it would be very difficult,” said Zorn, who was blind from birth. “I was blessed and fortunate to be able swim at the distances I did and be a multi-stroke athlete. It allowed me the opportunity to swim in multiple events and qualify in multiple events at the Games at one time.”

The Paralympic Games Sydney 2000 fell toward the back end of Zorn’s legendary career, so much so that she thought they might be her last.

She’d started in Arnhem in 1980 and between her debut and the 1988 Paralympic Games in Seoul, Zorn was unstoppable. She didn’t lose a race, winning the gold medal in events including freestyle, backstroke, butterfly, breaststroke and individual medley and distances ranging from 50 meters to 400 meters.

By the time Sydney came about, her total stood at 49 medals, 41 of which were gold.

Zorn was also in law school in the lead-up to the 2000 Games.

Presented with a unique opportunity, however, she decided to take a year off from her studies.

For the first time ever going into Sydney, a handful of top Paralympic athletes were invited to live full-time at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Paralympians had never been offered residencies in the past.

Being within walking distance to the pool and having access to the weight room, trainers, nutritionists and sports psychologists changed the way Zorn and her fellow Paralympians were able to prepare for the 2000 Games. It also meant there was more pressure.

“I think the expectations were higher than any other Paralympics just because we spent a whole year (in Colorado Springs),” she said. “Really knowing the impact and the consequences this

would have on the future, if this were an opportunity or something other athletes would be able to have, I think made it a little more stressful than normal Paralympic Games.”

Unfortunately, Zorn said, the 2000 Paralympic Games weren’t without controversy. There were many questions regarding whether or not athletes were in the right classification, including in her classification.

“There were rumors, but that’s just something we can’t control and you just have to know that you did what you went there to do,” she said. “Whether I liked the results or not was something I didn’t have any control over.”

For the first time, Zorn left a Paralympic Games without a gold medal, instead winning four silvers and one bronze. Sydney also wouldn’t be her last Games. She also competed in Athens in 2004 at the age of 40, raced in two events and won one bronze medal, to finish her career with a total of 41 gold medals, nine silvers and five bronzes.

These days, Zorn still lives outside Indianapolis, Indiana, and is a supervisor in the Department of Veterans Affairs in the fiduciary department reviewing legal documents and overseeing processing centers. Coming from a family with a strong military history but never being able to serve herself because of her vision, Zorn said, working with our nation’s most vulnerable veterans is something she finds very meaningful.

She doesn’t swim as much as she’d like, but does work out and enjoys Orange Theory Fitness in particular.

Although her medals don’t define her and never have, she said, she does think about her lasting legacy on the sport. She knows that what she and her fellow Paralympians did had an impact on things that athletes have now in terms of sponsorships, prize money and recognition.

“I want to believe that I made a positive impact on the sport and on the Paralympic Games,” she said. “I think about it and sometimes and wish we were at that point back then, but now I know that was the goal of the Paralympic athletes of that generation was to pave the way for the athletes now who have those opportunities.”

Karen Price

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.