Erin Popovich celebrates winning Gold in the women's 200m individual medley - SM7 on Sept. 7, 2008 in Beijing, China.
Erin Popovich attributes her beginning in swimming to “random happenstance.” The nineteen-time Paralympic medalist actually spent most of her time playing soccer as a kid. Her whole family was into soccer, and they frequently traveled around each weekend to various tournaments. However, around the age of 12, Popovich realized that the kids around her on the field were growing a lot faster than she was, and she could no longer be as competitive as she wanted to be. Popovich was born with achondroplasia, a genetic disorder that restricted the growth of her limbs. Rather than retire from sports all together, Popovich looked for another opportunity to satisfy her competitive edge. Thanks to the recommendation from some friends at school, she joined the local swim club.
Only six short months after she tried the sport for the first time, Popovich had the opportunity to compete at the USA Swimming Disability National Championships in Minneapolis. Her coach at the time saw she met the qualifying times.
“She said, ‘If you do really well you can make a world championship team,’ ” Popovich explained. “And I said…..’what’s that?’ ”
The Popovic family made the journey to Minneapolis from their small hometown in Montana. There, on her 13th birthday, she not only qualified for the world championship team, but broke a world record.
Popovich, who qualified for her first Games in 2000 and went a perfect seven-for-seven four years later at the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games, has an extensive list of career accomplishments. In 2005, she was awarded an ESPY for Best Female Athlete with a Disability in the inauguration of the award. (Spoiler alert: she won the award AGAIN four years later in 2009). But to Popovich, one of her favorite memories was more of a team effort.