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Ten Para-Swimmers You Won’t Want To Miss At The U.S. Team Trials

By Karen Price | June 15, 2021, 10 a.m. (ET)

Jessica Long poses for a portrait during the Team USA Tokyo 2020 Olympics shoot on Nov. 21, 2019 in West Hollywood, Calif.

 

Who to watch presented by DeVry is a series that includes a run-down on the front runners, dark horses, unexpected athletes and top storylines to watch during Trials.


Whether the’ll be going for their fifth Paralympic Games or their first, the swimmers who will gather on the University of Minnesota campus later this month for the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials represent the best in the country.

There have been few opportunities to compete since the events of March 2020, and most of the swimmers who’ll vie for a spot on this year’s team have only had one international meet since then in order to see where they stack up. 

Unlike the Olympic trials, the winners at the Paralympic trials, being held June 17-20, won’t automatically earn spots in Tokyo. At the conclusion of the trials a committee will decide which athletes are best suited to earn the quota spots the U.S. holds. 

Here’s a look at some of the athletes to watch as they look to give committee members one last look at their ability to perform.

Hannah Aspden competing in the women's 4x100-meter medley relay 34PTS at the Para-Swimming World Championship Mexico City 2017 on Nov. 5, 2017 in Mexico City.

 

Hannah Aspden 
Aspden was just 16 years old when she made her first Paralympic team in Rio in 2016, and the Raleigh, North Carolina, native became the youngest Team USA swimmer to medal at either the Paralympic or the Olympics that year when she won bronze in the 100-meter backstroke and the 34 pt. 4x100-meter medley.

Evan Austin
Austin has been focused on helping others achieve their swimming dreams in recent years serving as an assistant coach at Purdue University, but now the two-time Paralympian is ready to give his another shot. Austin, 28, is the reigning world champion in the 50-meter butterfly and right now has the fastest time in the world so far this season in the 400-meter freestyle. The Terre Haute, Indiana, native also set two new American records in the 400-meter freestyle and 50-meter butterfly at a competition earlier this spring. 

McKenzie Coan
In a breakout 2016 Games, Coan set a Paralympics record in the 50-meter freestyle and won gold, then topped the podium two more times in the 100-meter freestyle and 400-meter freestyle. She also won a silver medal in a relay. This year the 24-year-old from Clarkesville, Georgia, goes into trials as the reigning world champion in the 100 and 400 frees and has the fastest times in the world this year in the S7 100-meter freestyle, 400-meter freestyle and 100-meter backstroke.

Julia Gaffney competes in the women's 100-meter breaststroke SB6 at the Para Swimming World Championship Mexico City 2017 on Dec. 3, 2017 in Mexico City.

 

Julia Gaffney 
Gaffney won her first world title in 2019 in the women’s 200-meter individual medley. Now the rising star is the current world record holder in the women’s 100-meter backstroke. The 21-year-old from Mayflower, Arkansas, has a total of eight medals at two world championships since first beginning to swim competitively in 2015.

Robert Griswold
Griswold, 24, won a bronze medal in the 100-meter backstroke at the last Paralympics, and since then he’s commanded the world stage on several occasions. The North Carolina native became the first man to go under 30 seconds in the 50-meter backstroke at a World Para Swimming World Series meet in 2019, and later that year he won world titles in both the 100-meter backstroke and the 200-meter individual medley.

Jessica Long
If you watched the Super Bowl, you saw Long, 29, take center stage with the Toyota ad that highlighted her life story. Long made her first Paralympic team when she was just 12 years old and is the second-most decorated Paralympic athletes in history with a total of 23 medals. She’s going for her fifth Paralympic team this summer. Michael Phelps’ former training partner and Baltimore resident won gold in the 200-meter individual medley in Rio, in addition to three silver medals and two bronzes, and at the most recent world championships she collected five silver medals and one bronze. 

Elizabeth Marks
Army Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Marks made her Paralympic debut in Rio, winning gold in the 100-meter breaststroke and bronze in the 4x100-meter relay, and this year she heads into Trials as the reigning world champion in the 100-meter breaststroke. So far this year the 30-year-old has set an American record in the 100-meter backstroke and has the fastest time in the world in her classification in the 100-meter freestyle.  

Rebecca Meyers celebrates after the women's 400-meter freestyle S13 final at the 2019 World Para-Swimming Championships on Sept. 9, 2019 in London.

 

Becca Meyers
Meyers, 26, was one of the biggest stories of the Paralympics in Rio, where she won three gold medals and set world records in the 100-meter butterfly and the 400-meter freestyle in her classification. She also added a silver medal. Now she’s hoping to make her third Paralympic team. Meyers isn’t just a decorated swimmer, either. The Baltimore native recently graduated cum laude from Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania. 

Leanne Smith
Smith had a strong 2019, winning world titles in the 150-meter individual medley, 100-meter freestyle and 50-meter breaststroke, as well as silver in the 50-meter backstroke. Last summer she suffered a training injury and had to have emergency surgery, but the Salem, Massachusetts, native had a strong showing at a meet in April, winning two gold medals. She’s seeking her first Paralympic team at the age of 33, having started swimming in her mid-20s. 

Matthew Torres
Torres served notice that he’d be ready to compete for a spot in Tokyo when he won four individual and two relay medals at the 2019 Parapan American Games. The 20-year-old from Ansonia, Connecticut, was the most decorated swimmer at that event and will be looking to make his Paralympic debut later on this summer.

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 USParaSwimming.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

Related Athletes

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Hannah Aspden

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Evan Austin

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McKenzie Coan

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Julia Gaffney

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Robert Griswold

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Jessica Long

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Elizabeth Marks

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Becca Meyers

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Leanne Smith

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Matthew Torres