Abby Gase competes in the 50m fly in the Day 3 Prelims at the 2019 WPS World Series on April 6, 2019.
The change for Abby Gase, along with every other student in America, was sudden.
Just like that, she went from going to school with her friends and training with her team to having two weeks off, then suddenly being stuck in her home during what would normally be a peak training time.
Gase was initially worried because even with all the uncertainty, there were still competitions on the path to Tokyo 2020 on the schedule. She said she was able to step back and take a breath once the games were postponed until next summer.
“When all of that was postponed, it was almost a relief just because I wasn't able to train at my peak capacity,” she said. “It was kind of a good thing. I was able to calm down a little bit and not worry so much about how I was going to train in the freezing weather.”
Gase’s high school team was forced out of the pool for most of the spring and summer, causing a radical overhaul of her preparation for the high school season and Tokyo.
So what does a swimmer do without a pool?
“I've never taken that long of a break from swimming since I started nine years ago. It definitely felt choppy,” she said. “I could feel that, but at the same time, I felt as if my stroke and technique was a little better than it was before quarantine because of all the different dry land routines we did.”
Gase’s club team took to Zoom just like the rest of the world, working through daily circuit workouts including free weights and other strength exercises until it was time to get back in the water. She even started doing something as simple as standing in front of the camera or mirror to practice stroke technique, like a golfer working on their swing.
“I feel like that really did help a lot,” she said. “It was kind of difficult to do, and I didn't realize how much you focus on your stroke out of the water, but it was crazy.”
When it was time to get back in the water in June, she had to commute 30 minutes to an open pool before moving to a closer one that was only around 23 yards long. She’s been back in her regular pool since July. All of this is in preparation for a season that could be historic for the trailblazing high school swimmer.
Gase swam at sectionals in her freshman year but didn’t have the opportunity to advance to the district meet because there were not adaptive swimming events available. The Ohio High School Athletics Association added adaptive track and field to the state track meets a few years prior, so Gase and her family started calling and emailing officials asking for adaptive events to be added.
After a few failed attempts, Gase’s coach was able to get the ball rolling with the OHSAA. The association began construction on the state pool to meet ADA requirements, opening the door for adaptive swimmers to compete in state meets. Gase said it was a great feeling when she got to advance and swim in the district meet last year.
“You could see the look on all the other swimmer’s faces. They realized that we were competitors. We weren't just those disabled kids that were swimming just to swim. We were there to race; we were there to compete,” she said. “It was really cool to see how the people's perspectives had changed just from a few races.”
With the spring season still up in the air, Gase said she’s eager to compete as this would be her first opportunity to advance to the state meet.
“If that doesn't happen, I'll be pretty bummed, but I guess everyone else in the coming years will be able to experience that, even if I'm not in high school stuff,” she said. “It's been a long process, but it's starting to pay off.”
If it doesn’t happen, she’ll shift her focus to Paralympic team trials set for next June.
The young Para swimmer already has an appearance at the Para-Pan American Games under her belt and is ready to jump at the chance to represent Team USA in Tokyo next summer.
“It's a little intimidating just knowing how much experience the have on you, but at the same time, there's always time for a little bit of change,” she said. “Whatever happens, it's always a fun experience competing for Team USA.”