Paralympic Anastasia Pagonis receives a golden key to the city of Hempstead

Paralympian Anastasia Pagonis added some more gold to her collection.

Pagonis, a 17-year-old swimmer from Garden City who won the gold medal in the 400-meter freestyle at the Tokyo Paralympic Games in August, was presented with the golden key to the city of Hempstead on Monday, an honor that recognized her athletic performance and for the way her significant presence on social media strives to improve the lives of the visually impaired, according to Hempstead Town Supervisor Donald Clavin. Her key was placed on a plaque with both raised letters and Braille – a detail she wondered when she was presented with it.

Pagonis set a world record while winning gold in the 400-meter freestyle S11, the designation for visually impaired athletes who compete in dark-colored goggles using a “brave” guide who uses a pole to warn swimmers when they reach the pool track. end. She finished in 4: 54.49 and broke the record of 4: 56.16 she set at the US Paralympic Trials in June.

Pagonis also won a bronze medal in the 200-meter individual medley SM at the Tokyo Paralympic Games.

“I have such an opportunity to share my story and show people that one can do things, even if there are obstacles in the way, it is possible,” Pagonis said. “If you spoke to me a few years ago when I lost my sight, I did not even think I would be here. So the fact that I even went to the Paralympics … but with a gold medal? Even better. “

Pagonis began swimming when she was 11, but lost all her useful vision when she was 14 due to genetic retinal disease and autoimmune retinopathy. There were days she lost the hope of swimming competitively. But with the help of her family, a therapist, her trainer, Marc Danin, and her guide dog, Radar, she was able to get back in the pool.

“When I lost my sight, my parents did something to me where I should have [at least] one smoothie a day, and that was it, “because she had lost her appetite, she said.” And I had to go a five minute walk and now I’m a Paralympian. “

She is also an influencer, garnering 2.1 million followers on TikTok and another 243,000 on Instagram. Some of her posts are ordinary teenagers – cute clothes and jokes – but much of it seems to destigmatize visual impairment. She shows people how she does things without her sight and clears up misunderstandings about the condition.

“I keep getting DMs from people who say I’m helped them and that they’ve been bullied and how I’d helped them,” she said. “It’s something super important to me because I felt alone when this happened to me and I felt like I just was not perfect and that I did not fit into the world. [But here] I’m just showing people that it’s normal. You do not have to [live] within the stereotype. “

And it is true that Pagonis does not fit into any form, though not necessarily because she lost her sight. She talked about frustrating days at the pool, breaking bones and drumming the motivation to compete up. Now she has two medals and is striving for more. She hopes to be able to participate in the World Championships in swimming in para in Portugal in June next year and then go to the Paralympics Summer in 2024 in Paris.

“It’s been very hectic, very crazy,” she said, smiling. “I still do not understand that this is happening and [the medal] is mine.”

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