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Where Are They Now: Tom Miazga Finds Career Building Muscle After Swimming

By Ryan Wilson | Nov. 03, 2020, 1:30 p.m. (ET)

Tom Miazga at the medal ceremony of the Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games. 

While Tom Miazga has not swam competitively in five years, he believes his future in Para swimming could be filled with new personal bests.

That is, if he wanted to swim.

Miazga competed at the Paralympic Games Beijing 2008, and he has a handful of championship medals in the sport. His last meet was the 2015 national championships. He was considering making a run for the 2016 Rio Games, but he said he couldn’t do that and teach at the same time. Plus, the Games were scheduled for the first month he was supposed to teach.

So, he retired from swimming.

“Realistically, I decided that swimming was going to have to take a halt, just because the pragmatics of the real world caught up with me,” he said. “I felt at peace with my accomplishments, and I was highly satisfied with my career as it was.”

His competitive edge did not slow down. 

Eight or nine months after stepping away from swimming, Miazga accepted a non-teaching job, and he decided to pursue Adaptive CrossFit. Adaptive CrossFit is governed by WheelWOD (short for “Workout Of the Day”). It takes able-bodied CrossFit events, and modifies them for disabled people. 

WheelWOD offers different categories — Seated 1 and Seated 2 — to accommodate varying disabilities, similar to the classification system in Para swimming. Miazga can get out of his chair and walk, which places him in the Seated 2 category.

“It’s done a tremendous job of being able to feel as though everyone has a place and opportunity to work out and be their better selves,” Miazga said.

Athletes do a series of exercises each week, and videotape and share their results. As they advance in tournaments, the number of exercises the athletes do each week increases. The championship — the WheelWOD Games — requires a demanding 13 events over four days.

“It covers everything you can possibly think of,” Miazga said, noting they have done full triathlons, heavy lifting and “complex” gymnastic movements.

I think there’s something about having a disability or being in a wheelchair that makes you want to be independent. It’s this need that sometimes you want to prove to yourself that you can achieve things.

Miazga describes himself as being internally competitive. He is now capable of deadlifting 415 pounds and bench pressing 280 solely with his upper body, and he has been named the Fittest Seated Man on Earth, equivalent to the champion, in his category.

Yet he wants to improve. His strength is a “glaring weakness.”

“I don’t want to be that person who is doing really great in all of these other events, but has this glaring weakness that people can take advantage of.”

In the months between his retiring from swimming and joining WheelWOD, Miazga said he could tell he was losing strength, and he was having difficulties walking.

Swimming, he said, was therapeutic, but Adaptive CrossFit has given him a sense of control in his posture. His endurance has also increased.

“I would testify that my cardio endurance has not really wavered since I left the pool. I think it’s been a big blessing from CrossFit.” 

The added muscle weight he has acquired from lifting was not needed when he was swimming full time. 

The CrossFit athlete said he recently got in a pool for the first time in a while. He noticed he was able to come close to the times he set when he was chasing a Paralympic Games. 

“If I were to get back in (the pool), I could probably pick up where I left off,” he said. “I know my work ethic, and I think it would be something special, if it were to come around.” 

Miazga has cerebral palsy, and it affects the control he has in his muscles. While he does enjoy beating his competition, he said sports are an opportunity to work on himself. Part of that is maximizing his independence.

“I think there’s something about having a disability or being in a wheelchair that makes you want to be independent. It’s this need that sometimes you want to prove to yourself that you can achieve things.”

He added: “It’s not like anybody else is here to dictate our lives for us. It’s just a matter of being able to accept what’s given to us in the current moment, and how can we adapt and make it better for ourselves and those around us." 

Ryan Wilson

Ryan Wilson is a writer and independent documentary filmmaker from Champaign, Illinois. He is a freelance contributor to USParaSwimming.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Tom Miazga