McKenzie Coan Repeats for Swimming Gold After Training in a Garage Pool During the Pandemic
Last year, in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, McKenzie Coan swam tethered in an eight-foot mail-order pool inside her parents’ garage in Clarkesville, Georgia, to continue training for her sport.
This morning, Coan swam at the sprawling, state-of-the-art Tokyo Aquatics Centre as part of the 2020 Paralympic Games, where she clinched gold and defended her title in the women’s 400-meter freestyle S7 (a classification for physical impairment).
Coan clocked 5:05.84 to finish ahead of Italian Terzi Giulia (5:06.32) and fellow American Julia Gaffney (5:11.89), making it a double-podium event for Team USA.
A three-time Paralympian who now holds five Paralympic medals, Coan told Team USA in June that her pandemic-induced garage training made her an even stronger athlete.
“Let me tell you, that was some of the hardest training I’ve ever done,” the 25-year-old said. “I make a lot of waves, especially when I’m sprinting, and there’s nowhere for that water to go. It was almost like you’re swimming in the ocean.”
Nevertheless, Coan ended up enjoying the experience, which lasted for five months, Swimming World reported.
“It was a good time,” she told the outlet. “I had the music blasting. Every day, I’d have to sweep the water out of the garage so it didn’t completely ruin the floor. But training at home in the garage was a really unique and kind of fun experience.”
Coan expressed a similarly positive attitude after her gold-medal winning race. “To be able to come here, especially after the last year, what the world has gone through, it’s just nice to come here and do something that makes you smile and makes you happy, so I think it means even more,” Coan said, per Team USA.
When she was just 19 days old, Coan was diagnosed with osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease)—a genetic disease that makes it very easy for bones to break—according to NBC. Doctors told her parents she “would never do anything” even if she lived past infancy, reports Team USA. Because of the condition, Coan has broken an estimated 100 bones to date. But it hasn’t stopped her from pursuing her goals.
“I tell people, ‘I’ve dealt with it my entire life, and I’m not going to sit on the sidelines out of fear,’” she told Team USA. “I’m going to live my life with it.”
Coan wrote a memoir, released earlier this month, called Breaking Free: Shattering Expectations and Thriving with Ambition in Pursuit of Gold.
“I would say, read this book if you’ve ever been told that you can’t do something, if you’ve ever been told that you have been limited in life,” Coan told Team USA. “I think if people had it their way, they would have put me in a black box on a shelf, shut the door, and walked away. But that’s not what I was going to let happen.”
The 400-meter freestyle marked Coan’s first race in Tokyo. She will also swim the 50-meter freestyle (final on September 1) and the 100-meter freestyle (final on August 31)—two events in which she won gold at the 2016 Rio Games—as well as the 100-meter backstroke (final on August 30) and the 50-meter butterfly (final on September 3).
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