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Accepting The Present Moment, Sarah Bofinger Goes With The Flow For Tokyo

by Ryan Wilson

Sarah Bofinger in the pool. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Bofinger)

For an elite national Para swimmer, Sarah Bofinger doesn’t feel the pressure of achieving even her biggest dreams, such as standing atop the podium at the Paralympic Games.

“If I’m supposed to win the gold, if I’m supposed to do this for all of humanity, it will happen,” she said.

Bofinger is an up-and-coming Para swimmer from the Washington, D.C., area. While she is still not yet internationally classified, her times in practices, she said, set her among the best in her class. Bofinger made the national team after only one swim meet at the age of 33, and she is confident she will somehow make the postponed Paralympic GamesTokyo 2020 next summer.

“I’ve literally let go of any attachment of how am I getting internationally classified. When am I doing it? What am I ranked?”

Bofinger started swimming before she was walking. In fact, she once got out of the pool, looked to her mother and said, “‘Mommy, I love!’”

She did not really see her disability as too limiting, nor did she know of the Paralympic Games. Bofinger was born with hip dysplasia, when the hip socket does not support the ball of the hip. She had several surgeries up until the age of 15. After her last hip surgery, she sat in the hospital on a morphine pump watching Michael Phelps win gold medals. 

A year prior, she privately made a commitment to pursue an Olympic dream one day, and she felt those dreams came crashing down as quickly as they were formed.

“That just created all of this doubt within me,” Bofinger said. “I basically didn’t tell anyone that I had a dream of winning gold medals. I didn’t tell anyone anything about it, because I was like, ‘There’s no way that I could do this.’”

Bofinger became addicted to drugs. At the same time, she was in an abusive relationship with a man who was trying to make her into the woman he wanted. He would call her “dumb” and “stupid,” and he threatened to leave her every year. Every time he threatened to leave, Bofinger threatened to kill herself, as she was afraid of what her life would be like without the financial support her boyfriend provided. She felt unworthy.

In 2015, the nine-year abusive relationship ended. Bofinger had only $200 and some of her belongings, and she became very ill.

In retrospect, she sees life lessons.

“I am grateful for that situation. Most people would be like, ‘How are you grateful for that?’ I just see how much I learned from that.”

She added: “I really healed myself from that relationship. It took a long time. I’m sitting here five years later in the same month (November) that he broke up with me, the same month that I was sick, the same month that I wanted to commit suicide over and over, and I could never do it. Something told me, ‘Like, no, Sarah. This is for your highest good. This is for you to see and expand on.’ I could have never seen what was on the other side in that moment.”

Bofinger has since focused on bettering herself. She is on a gluten- and dairy-free diet, she has been sober for 10 years, and she has not taken any drugs for just as long.

Now she is dating the man of her dreams, meditates daily and emphasizes mind shifting, or changing one’s perception to create the life they want. She said she has “ramped up” her mindfulness exercises with the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is her purpose to share her experiences with others so they don’t have to go through the same struggle as she. 

She is focused on Tokyo.

She swims four times in an 85-degree LA Fitness pool. She deadlifted 180 pounds on Nov. 19 for the first time in her life, and she is seeing improvement in the strength of kicks.

“I know I am supposed to go to Tokyo,” she said. “So if I’m not going to Tokyo, that means no one is going to Tokyo. That’s how strongly I feel about what my purpose is for this.”

Ryan Wilson is a writer and independent documentary filmmaker from Champaign, Illinois. He is a freelance contributor to USParaSwimming.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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