For Many Paralympians, This Week’s Nationals Marks The First Competition Since Tokyo

by U.S. Paralympics Swimming

Matthew Torres competes in butterfly at the Tokyo Paralympic Games. (Photo: Getty Images)

Its been three months since the U.S. Paralympic swimmers bid farewell to Tokyo, and for many of them the first competition since the Games is about to begin.


This weekend marks the U.S. Para Swimming National Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, and a number of Paralympians will join up-and-comers who hope to make their own Paralympic debuts in Paris in 2024. The meet begins Friday and ends Sunday at the Greensboro Aquatic Center. 


Nathan Manley, the high-performance director for U.S. Paralympics Swimming, said roughly half the swimmers who competed in the Tokyo Games will be in Greensboro.


We have somewhere in the neighborhood of 16 athletes or so who are on the national team who participated in Tokyo who will be there,” he said. “There are still a number who maybe arent ready to return to competition, and thats pretty typical for after Games.”


McKenzie Coan, who won gold in the 400-meter freestyle and silver in the 100-meter freestyle S7 in her third trip to the Games, is one of the veterans wholl be in Greensboro. With her sights ultimately set on the world championships in 2022, Coan recently posted a photo of her smiling in the pool on Instagram, along with the caption, Cheesinhard because my first meet since Tokyo is only a week away.”



Shell be joined by such notables as 29-time Paralympic medalist Jessica Long, who won six of those medals in Tokyo, and two-time Paralympian Robert Griswold, who won gold in the 100-meter backstroke and 100-meter butterfly S8 this summer. 


Yet even with the presence of so many national team veterans, the absence of some may open the door for newer swimmers to emerge.


It can be exciting for younger, developing athletes because you move those top performers out of the way and it lets the spotlight shine down the pipeline a little bit,” Manley said. 


For him and other members of the development and coaching staff, this years nationals will provide a chance to see some of those athletes in the pipeline for the first time in a long while. While generally speaking they always have a good idea of how the up-and-comers are performing, the truth is that there just havent been that many competitions over the course of the past two years due to COVID-19. 


Not everyone felt comfortable with traveling to what competitions did happen, and then with Tokyo looming so closely much of the staffs focus was on those swimmers they were evaluating for the Games. 


Its also always interesting to see how some of the athletes respond, Manley said, especially those such as current college students who arent accustomed to competing in long course meets. But the surprises are also part of the fun. 


This is actually going to be a unique peek into how some of those (developing) athletes are doing who werent in that Tokyo focus and to see where they are,” Manley said. Im looking forward to being on deck and seeing everyone.”


In addition to Coan, Long and Griswold, there will be several other familiar faces in the pool. Two-time Paralympian and U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Elizabeth Marks wont be swimming the event in which she won gold and set a world record in Tokyo, the 100-meter backstroke S6, but she will compete in five events. Two-time Paralympian Hannah Aspden will swim in six events, although not the 100-meter backstroke S9 in which she won gold this year, and two-time Paralympian McClain Hermes is also set for six events.


A number of swimmers who made their Paralympic debuts in Tokyo will also be back in action, including two-time bronze medalist Julia Gaffney, bronze medalist Jamal Hill, bronze medalist Matthew Torres, Parker Egbert, Lawrence Sapp, Makayla Nietzel and MeiMei White. 


This will be the first time that Greensboro will host the U.S. Para Swimming Nationals, Manley said, which is also exciting.


The more eyes we get on para swimming the better,” he said. Whether people are able to come out in person or see it on the local media, theres always that kid or kids plural who will see it and it will light that fire. Whether we go to California, Texas or Florida, whats exciting is to find out down the road that someone was there and that was the trigger, that they said, Hey, that person looks like me; I can do this; I can be on a swim team.


“I hope the Greensboro community will see this as a cool opportunity to catch up on what Paralympic swimming is and well see some young people and connect with them there.”