Emotional comebacks for Coan, Weggemann as Team USA opens Santiago 2023 with eight medals
by Ros Dumlao
SANTIAGO, CHILE - Mallory Weggemann (Eagan, Minnesota) blew kisses to her daughter and McKenzie Coan (Clarkesville, Georgia) teared up as both reflected on their medal moments to open the first day of competition at the Parapan American Games Santiago 2023.
Weggemann notched Team USA’s first Para swimming medal with bronze in her marquee event – the women’s 200-meter individual medley SM7 – which was also her first competition since giving birth to her eight-month-old daughter Charlotte, who was in the stands.
“The 200 IM is my favorite event and the last time I swam it, I was 26-weeks pregnant with Charlotte and I raced it at Nationals,” the reigning Paralympic champion said. “It is one of my largest goals for Paris, to swim this event, defend my Paralympic gold from Tokyo and break my own world record (of 2:48.43) that I set in 2010.”
The comeback story was different for Coan. The 27-year-old couldn’t defend her title at the 2023 World Para Swimming Championships, having pulled out due to medical reasons. The journey back to competition form since that summer is what made her third-place finish in the women’s 400m freestyle S8 special.
“I get a little emotional taking about it because it’s been a hard year,” said Coan, who is the reigning Paralympic and world champion in the S7 category and raced a class up in Santiago. “This summer I missed world championships because I was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy (temporary facial paralysis) and it’s been a big fight to get here.
“I was getting my suit before going to warm up and I thought 12 weeks if you told me that I’d be here right now and that I’d be doing this when I couldn’t even breathe or blink properly, I don’t know if I would have believed you,” she continued. “It’s been a hard journey but that’s what makes this podium even better.”
In addition to her own event, Coan had to put on a different cap as co-team captain of the 36-strong team that’s seeing most make their international debuts.
And most have already displayed promise.
“I think I’m more excited for them sometimes watching them walk to the halls, to the call room, having their first Team USA moment,” said three-time Paralympian Coan. “There’s a pride that I feel with the next generation being handed the baton.”
Evan Wilkerson (Rolesville, North Carolina) secured Team USA’s first silver medal with an impressive finish in the men’s 100m backstroke S12. Taylor Winnett (Carlsbad, California) and Sarah Bofinger (Frederick, Maryland) shared their first international medal together with a two-three finish, respectively, in the women’s 100m breaststroke SB9.
With the unique support of her teammate and older brother Connor, Megan Gioffreda (Towson, Maryland) was all smiles with her bronze in the women’s 100m backstroke S6.
Yaseen El-Demerdash (Overland Park, Kansas) added to the Team USA tally with bronze in the men’s 50m freestyle S10.
“It was a lot of travel,” 17-year-old Wilkerson explained. “I had to bring everything with me that I would possibly need for two weeks. So that was a lot of logistical strain because getting all that through the airport… In terms of the race itself the crowd is much bigger, it’s much louder, it’s much more high stakes. And I’m here to represent my country, not just myself, which makes a big difference.”
Tokyo 2020 Paralympian Abbas Karimi (Fort Lauderdale, Florida) is no stranger to international scene, having competed under the Refugee Paralympic Team. But Santiago 2023 is his first Parapan American Games and second time swimming under Team USA internationally.
Karimi secured the last podium spot in the men’s 50m freestyle S5, a result he was happy with after just missing it at the 2022 World Championships.
“Through my whole journey I went through a lot of ups and downs. But at the end of the day, I didn’t quit. I didn’t give up. And that’s why I’m here. Winning a medal—even bronze, I feel like I’m a champion,” Karimi said.
Competition resumes tomorrow at 9 a.m. local time with the second day of preliminary heats. All sessions will be streamed live on the Pan Am sports channel. Follow U.S. Paralympics Swimming on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates and results throughout the competition, which runs through Nov. 25.
For media requests and photo inquiries, please contact Paralympic Communications at Paralympic.email@example.com.
Team USA Medals – November 18
Evan Wilkerson – men’s 100m backstroke S12
Taylor Winnett – women’s 100m breaststroke SB9
Mallory Weggemann – women’s 200m IM SM7
Mckenzie Coan – women’s 400m freestyle S8
Sarah Bofinger - women’s 100m breaststroke SB9
Abbas Karimi – men’s 50m freestyle S5
Megan Gioffreda – women’s 100m backstroke S6
Yaseen El-Demerdash – men’s 50m freestyle S10
Other Team USA Results:
Adin Williams – 4th, men's 200m IM SM7
Gabi Farinas – 5th, women's 50m freestyls S10
Emmett Martin – 5th, men's 100m breaststroke SB9
Amanda Sheward – 5th, women's 100m backstroke S6
Trevor Lukacsko – 5th, men's 200m freestyle S14
Noah Busch – 6th, men's 100m breaststroke SB9
Piper Sadowski – 6th, women's 200m freestyle S14