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Para Swimmer McKenzie Coan Finds Inspiration in the Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

By Joshua Clayton | Oct. 01, 2020, 3:49 p.m. (ET)

Two-time Paralympian McKenzie Coan recently moved to Colorado to train for the 2021 Paralympics in Tokyo.


McKenzie Coan was sitting in her new room at the Olympic & Paralympic Training Center on September 18 when she got the news. 

Coan was taking a step toward fulfilling a dream by applying to her first law school when her phone lit up with the news alert that long-standing Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died at age 87. 

It was at that time that Coan made a decision. After a period of grieving, she went on to fill out several law school applications, more determined than ever. 

“It's very surreal,” she said. “She would never want us to get down about it or stop trying or stop doing whatever it is that we're chasing and the change that we want to make.” 

Very few people have had a more pronounced impact on American society than Ginsburg. Coan said the Justice’s achievements in the face of adversity inspired her at an early age. When Coan learned about the Supreme Court in fifth grade, she’d found her hero. 

“I think I spent the entire paper talking about her and her accomplishments,” she said. “What kind of stood out to me the most about her was even in the midst of the discrimination that she experienced as a woman, she never let that stop her.” 

Now years later with two Paralympic Games under her belt, Coan pledged to carry on the legacy of strong leadership of Ginsburg in a letter of tribute. Coan said the perseverance of Ginsburg provided the blueprint for her to grow in every facet of her life, whether it be academic, athletic or anything else. 

“We have all these different impairments, and all of these different limitations as other people would call them, but we still go out and do it anyway,” she said. “I think that there's a really unique parallel there that when I think about it, it gives me goosebumps. I literally want to go to the pool and race right now.” 

Coan said that same inspiration that caused her to apply to several schools on September 18 will fuel her stride toward the 2021 Paralympic Games in Tokyo. 

“I think a lot of what she went through kind of mirrors what a lot of us go through competing,” she said. 

“A lot of people like to tell us what we can't do or what we shouldn't attempt to do. And they don't like it when we try to come in and change the landscape of things and change the things upon which our society is built.” 

As far as training during the COVID-19 pandemic, Coan has rode with the punches. She was able to train in a makeshift pool in her garage in Georgia before moving to Colorado to train in the OPTC. 



“I thought to myself with everything that I've been through in my life, with my disability, with having fractured bones all the time and dealing with those setbacks, how am I going to look at this? And I thought to myself, this is no different than anything I've ever faced before.” 

Coan’s ultimate goal after competing in Tokyo is to go to law school and eventually work with the ACLU fighting for some of the same civil liberties Ginsburg helped advance during her life. 

 “If I can go out and make a difference in someone's life, no matter where I end up and no matter who I ended up working for, then that is a win in my eyes,” she said. 

As Tokyo approaches, Coan continues to draw inspiration from the legendary Supreme Court Justice and despite the uncertainty of today, she’s confident that tomorrow is bright. 

“I think that's kind of what 2020 is all about,” she said. “Dealing with the setbacks and initiating the change that we so desperately need. 

“I think when I look back on my own journey, every adversity I've ever faced I come out better on the other side. And I think that we will come back even better and even stronger because of this year.” 


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McKenzie Coan