Despite setbacks, swimmer takes head-first approach to reaching Paralympic gold

Published 7:00 pm Monday, April 23, 2012

(ARA) – By 10 a.m., Anna Johannes has crossed more off of her daily to-do list than most strive to accomplish in a week. As a swimmer with her eyes set on the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, every moment of her day counts as she balances training, practice, taking college courses and completing homework assignments.

While most would be overwhelmed with Johannes’ daily schedule, she dives in head first, with the same sense of determination that’s been running through her veins since jumping into a pool at age 2.

Born without her left hand and forearm due to a birth defect caused by Amniotic Band Syndrome, Johannes found the setback hardly disabling.

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“When I first went near my baby pool as a young child, my parents were scared I would jump in and drown, but I was never afraid,” says Johannes.

By the time Johannes turned 6, she had joined her local swim team as an able-bodied swimmer and continued to excel and improve upon her abilities. Three years later, it was suggested that she compete in Paralympic swim meets.

While some might see Johannes’ disability as a road block, one thing she certainly isn’t lacking is heart.

“I’ve never thought of myself as disabled,” says Johannes. “Even when I swam against able-bodied swimmers, I thought to myself, ‘I can do this. I can beat her.'”

Johannes’ natural talent has made her no stranger to the podium; most recently, she snagged five gold medals, one silver medal and set Para Pan American records in the 100 Meter Breaststroke race and the Para Pan American record in the 100 Meter Butterfly race at the 2011 Parapan American Games.

Now, Johannes is setting her sights on qualifying for the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. To train, she moved to the U.S. Olympic Training Complex in Colorado Springs, Colo. to prepare for the competition and road ahead.

Johannes’ days are long and regimented, but not spent entirely in the water; she does have the opportunity to come up for air. And when she does, she is preparing for her future off the starting blocks by taking college courses.

Johannes is doing so at DeVry University, named an official education provider for U.S. Olympic Committee for providing education to Olympians and Paralympians, and hopefuls. She is working to achieve her educational goals while still being able to maintain her training schedule.

“I’m able to take classes by going online, which gives me the flexibility to participate in interactive discussions with classmates and professors and complete my assignments in between practices,” says Johannes.

And while many may be left wondering how Johannes manages to do it all, she offers one piece of advice that she’s carried with her throughout her career. “I take it one day at a time and break everything down into smaller pieces,” says Johannes. “You have to be able to look at your goals and ask yourself, ‘what will I achieve today?’ Otherwise, the big picture can be overwhelming.”

One thing is clear; despite her setbacks, Johannes has never second guessed her ability to achieve success both in and out of the water.