Two-Time Paralympian Sophia (Herzog) Gibb Retires After A Stellar Swimming Career
by Karen Price
Sophia Herzog on the Paralympic podium after winning a medal at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. (Photo: Joe Kusumoto)
Sophia Gibb remembers a time 15 years ago when she was still early in her swimming career, hungry for all the things she hoped to one day accomplish.
She was Sophia Herzog then, a little kid who’d scribble down goal times on paper, follow the swimmers she admired and watch everything she could find on YouTube that she thought might make her better.
That kid went on to compete in two Paralympics. In January, Gibb, now 25, announced her retirement from the sport.
“It was all that I wanted it to be,” she said of her career. “I never thought it would turn into what it did, and just to look back and see (myself) coming from a town with no swim team to being a two-time Paralympic medalist and two-time world champion, meeting my significant other through the Paralympics, it was everything I wanted it to be. There’s no one word to describe it.”
Gibb grew up in Fairplay, Colorado, a small mountain town known more for being close to world-class skiing, snowboarding and other outdoor sports than for producing great swimmers.
In fact, after she learned to swim with the Dwarf Athletic Association of America and falling in love with the sport, Gibb’s parents had to drive her an hour each way to swim with the nearest club team.
The sacrifice paid off when Gibb made her first national team in 2014.
“I got the email when I was in high school,” she said. “I shouldn’t have been checking my phone, but I did.”
Born with a form of dwarfism called achondroplasia, Gibb was the first student with a disability in her school district. She graduated a year early and, at 17, moved to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
She made her Paralympic debut at the Rio Games in 2016, winning silver in the 100-meter breaststroke and finishing sixth in the 200-meter individual medley. The following year, she went to the world championships for the first time and won gold in the 100 breaststroke and the 34 pt. 4x100 medley, silver in the 200 IM and bronze in the 100 freestyle and 100 backstroke.
Those were the first of many highlights and memorable moments of Gibb’s career. There were also, of course, challenges along the way. The classification system is flawed with athletes misrepresenting themselves, Gibb said, which was frustrating.
Her second trip to the world championships didn’t go as planned, and at one point between Rio and her return to the Paralympics in Tokyo, Gibb questioned whether she wanted to keep going. A move with her then-boyfriend to Salida, Colorado, for a change of scenery helped, as did moving to London for the summer of 2019 to train with British Paralympian and close friend Ellie Simmonds.
“To swim somewhere else and train with one of my direct competitors was really healthy for me at that time,” Gibb said.
By the time the Tokyo Games finally came around in 2021, Gibb knew it would be her last trip to the Games. She won bronze in the 100 breaststroke and was seventh in the 200 IM. In the summer of 2022, she went to one last world championships and won silver in her signature event, the 100 breaststroke.
Swimming, Gibb said, taught her how to handle pressure.
“And probably that I’m a lot tougher than I realize,” she said. “I also learned what happens when you put your head down, you work hard and you’re willing to sacrifice everything for something. It’s completely worth it.”
Gibb will miss representing the U.S. and traveling the world, but she’s excited for her new life in public health. She’s already working in the field, she said — working on her master’s degree — and loves having the chance to serve people in her community. She married longtime boyfriend Nick Gibb, a former Team USA Para-cyclist, in August, recently started running and this season started ski racing again for the first time since growing up in Fairplay.
“I was mentally ready and physically ready to retire,” she said. “It was weird to see the national team roster be released and not be on it for the first time in 10 years. Like, is that a typo? But I was really lucky that I was able to gracefully step into the next chapter of life without pining away for unfinished business. I did everything I wanted to in my career.”