Michelle Konkoly Blog – ECAC Championships and a New American Record

Michelle Tucker

This weekend I was fortunate enough to participate in the para-swimming demonstration events at ECAC Championships at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD.  It was truly an honor to be a part of the competition and the changes the ECAC are pioneering through the ECAC Inclusive Sports Initiative have the potential to drastically change the way college programs see swimmers with disabilities. Today’s heats were exhibition events, but conference is planning to implement a similar system within the next few years to allow Paralympic-classified swimmers to score at collegiate meets.

Before both the prelims and finals sessions on Saturday, two heats of para-swimmers competed in the 100 yard free and 100 yard backstroke. As I stood behind the blocks and the announcer detailed these plans for greater inclusivity, I got goosebumps thinking of how history is in the making and my teammates and I are lucky enough to be a part of it. This excitement carried through to my races – in the 100 free I went a personal best time by over a second and new S9 American Records with a 55.45! I was thrilled with this time since such a huge time drop without any rest really validates that the difficult training I’ve been putting in over the last few months is paying off.  We also swam the 100 back and I was pleased with that race as well. My Team Dolfin teammates Tucker Dupree also had a fantastic meet and set American Records in both of his events!

I sometimes struggled to find my place as a disabled swimmer in the collegiate world, and I know many other para-swimmers share this sentiment. I am a huge advocate of swimming in college for the lessons of camaraderie, leadership, and time management, but it can be difficult for para-swimmers to feel that they are contributing to the team’s goals when they are typically not scoring points or bringing home medals for the team. A system like the one ECAC is pioneering would not only incentivize athletes to decide to swim in college, but would help coaches utilize the talent and dedication of para-swimmers for more than just an ‘inspiration’ during practice. This is a huge step toward inclusivity of para-athletes in the world of able-bodied sports and would allow world class athletes to be recognized in more than just the Paralympic sphere. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this monumental change.