I am often asked, “Reggie, you inspire so many people to dig deeper and be better versions of themselves. What inspires you?” That’s a simple question for me to answer. I get my inspiration from people who day in and day out are faced with challenges & adversities but somehow continue to strive for nothing less than the best that life has to offer them! One of those people is Bryce Ballinger-Sarabia. In 2012 Bryce went to a hospital emergency room with what she thought was the flu. 6 months later she had lost both hands and feet. Can you imagine? One minute you’re planning your future a certain way and then life throws you an unexpected curve ball and you end up a quadrilateral amputee. Most young ladies her age would have fallen into a deep depression after such an ordeal. Not Bryce. She chose to go on with her life and use her situation and experiences to help other people who struggle with physical challenges. An avid swimmer since she was a toddler, Bryce decided to rededicate her life to competitive swimming and is now competing for a spot on the US Paralympic Swim Team. Part of the qualification process for making the US team is to compete in various regional competitions across the country. Your performance at these meets counts towards your chances at making the team and ultimately the Paralympic games which will be held in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. I asked Bryce if she would write about her experience at the Jimi Flowers Classic, a regional meet in Colorado during the first week in June so that I could share it with my readers. Here she is in her own words:
Going to the Jimi Flowers Classic was one of the greatest experiences in my life so far. Getting the opportunity to swim with other para swimmers is always great but to go to the Olympic Training Center and swim was truly awesome. I’ve been swimming since I was 6 months old and jumping in the water 3 years ago after losing four limbs is the first time I can ever remember being afraid in the water. That feeling made me want to work as hard as I could to regain the comfort level I’d had before.
I arrived in Colorado Springs Thursday night before the meet with my mom, and boyfriend Matt. We settled in and got a good nights sleep before getting up to go train at the OTC on Friday. When we arrived at the pool it was impressive, 25 yards across and 50 meters wide, with every Summer Olympic flag going all the way back before the 20’s, and of course a cacophony of coaches yelling and water splashing. As you swim the length of the pool it’s impossible not to think of all the impressive people who’ve trained there before you, or even right next to you. There’s Jessica Long winner of 12 gold medals so far at 3 summer games, Roy Perkins who’s won 1 gold and 2 silver in 2 Olympics and of course the entire US Paralympic resident swim team who are some of the fastest swimmers in their classes in the world. On Saturday the atmosphere was competitive but also extremely supportive. People are genuinely happy for you when you win and keep track of each other from one meet to the next. You start to form a bond with competitors and you make friends with people from all over the world. On Sunday I had just one last race, the 50 meter backstroke. It’s a short but none the less high energy event with 7 other swimmers in my heat. After the long whistle I get in the water and there’s nothing but silence, broken only by an electronic voice over the PA telling us to take our marks, then the buzzer signaling the start of the race. At that moment nothing else matters, it’s the moment that you stop thinking about anything except moving through the water. After all was said and done I finished first in my heat in half the events I swam, but what really mattered is all of the new friends I made and old ones I got to see.