Swimmer Sophia Herzog Overcomes Challenges Two Years Out From Her Final Games

By Melissa Zhang | Dec. 11, 2018, 12:52 p.m. (ET)

Sophia Herzog won gold in the women's 100m Breaststroke SB6 during the Para Swimming World Championship Mexico City 2017.
Sophia Herzog won gold in the women's 100m Breaststroke SB6 during the Para Swimming World Championship Mexico City 2017.

 

Paralympic swimmer Sophia Herzog has been one of the most consistent faces around the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center over the past four years.

 

Living, training and giving tours at the OTC since she was 17 years old, Herzog has seen many athletes come through Colorado Springs on their way to the Games.

 

Now, the end of Herzog’s time as a resident-athlete is in sight as well, as she plans to say goodbye to the OTC after the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.

 

The place that has been a second home for all her adult life so far has served Herzog well, helping her to win her first Paralympic medal at the Rio Games.

 

“I obviously want to medal and do better than I did in Rio that's the goal, to come out stronger than I did in Rio,” Herzog said, who earned a silver medal in the 100-meter breaststroke in Rio. “But Tokyo will be my last one so I'm putting everything I have and all my focus into it.”

 

She has already faced challenges along the road to her final Games, however. The 21-year-old swimmer went through two major surgeries on her right knee this year, the first taking place in April and the second in September.

 

Herzog took some time off to do both the surgery and the recovery at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado, where Herzog was able to enjoy the fall foliage without the ski season crowds.

 

“It was a nice mental break,” Herzog said. “It was nice to totally check out for a couple weeks and come back fresh.”

 

Herzog said that she’s had to focus on her mental preparation this year, in particular, due to the physical challenges associated with bouncing back from each surgery.

 

“I obviously wasn't having good practices and that was really frustrating,” Herzog said. “Even in Vail when I was fully checked out, I knew my competitors were training while I was sitting on a couch reading a book.”

 

Herzog said she has been working with a sports psychologist and has also taken up a new hobby on Saturday nights: painting.

 

“Swimming, you can turn your brain off and go,” Herzog said. “Painting, you really have to think about and use your hands for.”

 

Herzog’s first major competition after her two surgeries will take place Dec. 14-16 at the 2018 National Para Swimming Championships in Tucson, Arizona. She said her performance there will be a good indicator for how far she has to go for Tokyo.

 

“I'm trying to go into nationals with no pressure. It's my first meet back and I'll have been training four weeks for it,” Herzog said. “I'm not trying to put any goals but it's good to be back. I'm a person of routine, so it's nice to be back to what I know.”

 

Herzog said the recovery process has been a good learning lesson and is grateful the surgeries happened two years before she has the chance to swim for Paralympic medals.

 

“It's been really mentally challenging, but I think being mentally tough is going to help me going into Tokyo.” Herzog said.

 

Although the end of her time at the OTC is now in sight, Herzog said she will be happy to start a new journey after Tokyo.

 

Herzog has been completing her bachelor’s degree online in business communications with DeVry University, and plans to finish her degree before Tokyo. She also hopes to travel for at least a year and visit different parts of the world – this time, without dealing with the pressures of competing.

 

“This is what I've done all my life and what I've been working towards since before I can remember,” Herzog said. “Now that it's going to be done soon, it is kind of bittersweet, but I'll be happy. I'll be 23 and ready to move on and try something different.”