Naperville swimmer scores second Paralympic berth
Alyssa Gialamas of Naperville is headed to Rio by way of Baltimore after she claimed a spot this weekend on the U.S. women's Paralympic swimming team.
Gialamas scored her second Paralympic berth when she was named to the 20-member team after a three-day trials meet in Charlotte, North Carolina.
She'll swim the 50-meter backstroke and 50-meter freestyle, 100-meter freestyle and 200-meter freestyle races in the Paralympics beginning Sept. 7. She thanks her new favorite event for allowing her to get there.
"The 50 back definitely was the reason I made the team," she said Monday about the race, which was added to the Paralympics shortly after the competition four years ago in London. "I broke the American and Pan-American record. I dropped over a second."
Gialamas, 21, finished the 50-meter backstroke in 47.14. She said the perfect combination of hand speed and power "turned to magic" during the sprint race as she turned in her personal best performance.
"I really just went as hard as I could," she said.
While Gialamas earned a spot in her second Paralympics, swimmer Ahalya Lettenberger of Glen Ellyn was named to the national "emerging team" after the trials.
Gialamas, who has been swimming competitively since she was 15, will spend a couple of days at home in Naperville with her parents, brother and sister to celebrate, but the vacation will be short-lived. On Wednesday, she'll head back to her college campus -- Loyola University Maryland -- to train until the Paralympics.
Meanwhile, her family will search for plane tickets and hotel reservations.
In Baltimore, she will train under Loyola Maryland coach Brian Loeffler with one of her college teammates and three other swimmers who made the Paralympic team.
"We each have our own specialty," she said. "We're building each other up, which is cool."
Gialamas swims in the S5 division of the Paralympics, which groups athletes of similar abilities into classifications for fairness.
She 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, and she needs to wear leg braces to walk. She says her condition is static -- not getting any worse or any better.
At the trials, she said her fan base expanded when a North Carolina family with three boys younger than 8 who all have arthrogryposis introduced themselves to her.
She's had a social media following on her Twitter feed @AlyssaGialamas and on Facebook since swimming the 50-, 100- and 200-meter freestyle races in the London Paralympics. But she said it made the trials special to have some young people she's inspired come see her in person.
"That was one of the coolest moments to be able to touch these people's lives," Gialamas said.
Her Paralympics training regimen will be much like the workouts she's been putting in with Loeffler since the college season ended in February: She completes 10 workouts a week, starting at 6 a.m. in the pool. Three days a week, she strength trains and twice a week she does two-a-days in the pool.
"Hopefully I'll be faster in Rio," she said.