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Natalie Sims, Swimmer with YWCA Minneapolis’ Otters for 4.5 Years, Makes USA Paralympic Team

By YWCA Minneapolis
July 5, 2016
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Image by Joe Kusumoto {} via Team USA {}.

Road to the Paralympics: US Paralympic Trials Meet in Charlotte, NC

With one race left to go, Natalie Sims, a 19-year-old YWCA Minneapolis Otters swim team member, had to hear the truth of the upcoming 100-meter freestyle final. She was seeded third after a best-matching swim in the morning, but there was a chance that even that would not be enough to get her onto the Rio Paralympic Team.

Otters Head Coach Dave Cameron laid out the stakes ahead: “We’ve gone over all the strategic and technical details we can. But you need to know something about this race. It’s not just your last race at this year’s trials. It’s very likely the last para race that we will be together for. If it goes well, you join your national team coaches in Rio. If it doesn’t, you still look forward to your college coaches next year at University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse. But this is it for you and me on deck. You have to swim this one for you, and you have to swim it for us.”

Natalie paused before responding. “You’re going to get me all emotional.”

That was exactly the plan. Facing the new world record-holder in the S9 100-meter freestyle swim, and the possibility that she’d be excluded from the Rio Games even with an event victory, Natalie had to bring more to this race than any before. She had earned times fast enough to be on the Emerging Team, which is for athletes with potential for future national and international meets, but she had yet to make a National Team qualifying time in any swim.

Making the National Team brings a litany of resources to a swimmer and their family, from financial and travel support, to equipment, insurance and scholarship opportunities. But the qualifying time for the National Team was over a second faster than Natalie’s best, and she wasn’t even seeded as the runner-up. As she left her coach to walk to the ready room before the race, she turned around and gave her coach her version of a fist bump- his fist against her right arm, which is a limb-deficient mid-wrist.

“I’ve got this.”

The Race

Natalie started the race with a speed we’ve never seen from her before. She moved to the edge of the lane to swim close to Michelle Konkoly, the world record-holder who was seeded almost six seconds faster than Natalie. Natalie drove her kick, picked up her tempo, and stayed with Michelle into the wall at the 50 meter mark. Her opening 50 meters was within tenths of her fastest 50 meters of her life! Coming off the wall, she could see that she had moved into second, ahead of two national team members and ahead of any pace she’d ever maintained. Stroke after stroke, she extended her lead, coming back almost 1.5 seconds faster than her back 50 meters of the morning preliminary swim.

As she rushed into the finish, she timed it perfectly to land on her left arm, necessary for a speed advantage because of the limb deficiency on her right arm. She looked up and couldn’t believe the time. She had over a two second drop from her previous race, had won second place and was over a second ahead of the National Team qualifying time.

She was stunned and overjoyed. No matter what the US Paralympic team announced, she had exceeded her expectations, and demonstrated what thousands of hours of training over the last four years at YWCA Minneapolis had delivered.

Making the USA Paralympic Team

After another sleepless night of anticipation, Coach Dave let us know it had just been announced that Natalie Sims, a YWCA Minneapolis Otter for 4.5 years, will represent Team USA at the Rio Paralympics in September. After three days of swim race trials in Charlotte, North Carolina, 21 female and 10 male para athletes were selected to join the USA Paralympic swim team. This is another milestone in Natalie’s accomplished swim journey. She will continue to receive support from her friends, family and the YWCA community who have all helped drive her to the world stage, where she is now ranked in the top 8 in two events. Congratulations, Natalie!

Read the Team USA announcement here.

Follow Natalie’s journey through her fan page at: