Naperville swimmer aims for Rio Paralympic team
Alyssa Gialamas of Naperville is the American record holder in her class for four Paralympic swimming events, but she still has to earn a spot on the team to compete in Rio.
She'll be working on that starting Thursday during the U.S. Paralympic Swimming Trials in Charlotte, North Carolina.
"I'm really looking forward to swimming really fast," she said.
Gialamas is scheduled to swim the 200-meter freestyle on Thursday, the 50-meter backstroke and 50-meter freestyle on Friday and the 100-meter freestyle on Saturday before the team for the Rio Paralympic Games will be announced Sunday.
"I'm stronger than I ever have been," said Gialamas, 21, and a graduate of Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora. "I'm excited to see how that plays out in the pool."
Gialamas began swimming competitively when she was 15 and three years later competed in the Paralympics in London in 2012. She missed the medal stand but finished fifth in the 200-meter freestyle and ninth in both the 50- and 100-meter freestyle races.
"London was kind of my warm-up games just because you don't really know what to expect until you've been there," Gialamas said.
This time, if she makes the team for Rio, she knows to expect more than 10 days of competition (from Sept. 7 through 18), thousands of people watching and "a really good amount of nervous energy."
Since her "warm-up games" in London, the 50-meter backstroke has been added as a Paralympic event and Gialamas says it's her new favorite.
Since London she's also started swimming at Loyola University Maryland, where she is studying communications with a specialization in public relations.
She hasn't been in the pool in a competitive meet since the college season ended in February, but she's continued to train with Loyola coach Brian Loeffler, completing 10 workouts a week for swimming and strength. She starts her day at 6 a.m. in the pool. Three days a week, she adds strength training and twice a week, she completes two pool workouts in the same day.
Gialamas was born with arthrogryposis, a neuro-musculo-skeletal disorder that causes stiffness, poor mobility and muscle fatigue. Her knees, feet, hands, wrists and jaw are affected by the disorder, which requires her to wear leg braces to walk. She says hers is a static condition, meaning it's not getting any worse or any better.
She competes in the S5 classification within the system the Paralympics uses to group athletes of similar abilities for fairness. In all of her events, she's hoping to swim faster than the American record times she already holds, especially in her freestyle races.
"That would be great to break all four American records at this meet," Gialamas said.
If she makes the team, she'll head right back to the pool to try to advance even more before the Paralympics on the world stage.
Gialamas is aiming to claim one of 21 spots on the women's team, chosen based on world rankings. A swimmer's highest-ranking event is the one that counts toward gaining a spot on the team. Gialamas said she has the best chance in her 200-meter freestyle of 50-meter backstroke.
Her parents and grandparents are there to support her at the trials, while her sister and twin brother will be "celebrating from home."
The trials won't be on TV or shown live on any official online feed, but Gialamas suggests following U.S. Paralympics on Facebook, on Twitter @USParalympics or on other social media platforms to see updated results.