Matthew Torres celebrates after a race at the 2019 Parapan American Games. (Photo: Mark Reis)
With the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials for Swimming just weeks away, this is the time for which scores of up-and-coming swimmers have been preparing for years.
Who will be making their Paralympic debuts later this summer in Tokyo?
Any trials are always full of surprises, but here are just a few of the Paralympic hopefuls to watch at the event being held June 17-20 in Minneapolis.
Gaffney was considered a rising star when she won her first world title in the women’s SM7 200-meter individual medley in 2019. By the time the Paralympics are over she could be just a star, period. Currently the S7 world record holder in the women’s 100-meter backstroke, the 21-year-old from Mayflower, Arkansas, also won five silvers and one bronze medal at the 2017 world championships.
Jenkins was just 16 years old when she won the S10 100-meter butterfly at the 2019 world championships, where she also won silver medals as part of two relays. After setting Pan American and American records in the 100 butterfly and 200 individual earlier in the year, the now 18-year-old from Evansville, Indiana, showed she’s ready to take on the world in Tokyo.
Losing her vision hasn’t stopped Pagonis, 17, from pursuing the sport she loves. After battling vision decline for about 10 she lost her sight in 2018, but last year relocated to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in order to train for Tokyo. The Long Island, New York, native set the S11 women’s 400-meter freestyle American record in the prelims then broke it by five seconds in the final at the at the Lewisville 2021 Para Swimming World Series in April in Texas, and set three national records in two days at the meet.
She started swimming competitively at 12, achieved her first emerging time standard a year later at the 2016 Paralympic trials and three years later made her Parapan American Games debut. Now 17, the Minnesota native won her first medal, a silver in the SM9 200-meter individual medley.She also took gold in the 200 IM and added two silver and two bronze medals at the 2019 World Para Swimming World Series Indianapolis.
Getting a late start in swimming hasn’t hurt Shattuck. He may not have taken up the sport until he was 18, but the lifelong athlete nonetheless medaled just three years later at the 2017 world championships, winning bronze in the men’s 4x100-meter medley to go with a fourth-place finish in the SB6 100 breaststroke. When athletes returned to competition this spring the 25-year-old from Mt. Airy, Maryland, took bronze in the 100 at the first World Para Swimming World Series event of the year.
Stickney went from an Olympic distance swimming hopeful to a below-the-knee amputee to a double below-the-knee- amputee all in a matter of years. The postponement actually allowed the 23-year-old from New Hampshire more time to prepare, and in her first meet in the S8 class as a double amputee won gold in the women’s 400 freestyle at the Lewisville Para Swimming World Series in April.
Torres competed at the 2016 U.S. Paralympic Team Trials as a long shot to make the team. He proved himself one to watch for Tokyo, however, at the 2019 Parapan American Games when he won four individual and two relay medals — including gold in the S8 100-meter backstroke and 400 . That made him the most decorated swimmer at the event. The 20-year-old from Ansonia, Connecticut, also won six medals at the 2019 World Para Swimming World Series in Indianapolis.
Williams, 20, has accumulated 11 national titles and six U.S. records in the S6 classification since the last time the Paralympics were held.Now he’s ready to take his shot at Tokyo. The George Fox University swimmer and Happy Valley, Oregon, native was named to the national team for the first time in 2020 and broke three of his records — in the S6 50-yard freestyle, 100-yard butterfly and 100-yard freestyle — at the North West Conference Championships in February 2020.