Naperville native heading to Paralympic Games
Once again, the international Paralympic Games will have area representation.
Naperville native Alyssa Gialamas will make a return trip to the Games in September in Rio after she was named to the U.S. Paralympic Swimming Team.
Gialamas, 21, a graduate of Waubonsie High School in Aurora, told the Will County Gazette in an email interview that she will compete in four events: the 200- ,100- and 50-meter freestyles, and the 50 backstroke.
This will be Gialamas' second trip to the Games. At the London Games in 2012, she finished fifth in the 200 freestyle, according to TeamUSA.org.
“It was an amazing first experience,” Gialamas said. “I think that going into the games so young I had a great chance to learn what it takes to be successful at the games and what I wanted to be able to do in Rio.”
According to her biography on TeamUSA.org, Gialamas was born with arthrgryposis, which affects the joints and muscles. That created problems with her jaws, knees and feet as she grew up. Gialamas said she swam on her local team while growing up, as she found that swimming is something she loves because it makes her feel free.
“In the water, my body moves better than it does on land,” Gialamas said.
She was discovered at age 13 by the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association (GLASA). That's when she found out about the possibility of going to the Paralympics.
“I think once I started swimming for GLASA I realized that I could be great at something and swimming was that thing,” Gialamas said. “I put in a lot of work to become a world-class swimmer, but GLASA helped me realize that I could be good at it.”
That she is. According to TeamUSA.org, Gialamas holds the United States records in the 50, 100, 200, 400 and 1,500 freestyles and the 100 backstroke. She earned four silver medals at the 2011 Parapan American Games, four golds at the 2013 World Championships, and four golds and a silver at the Spring Nationals/CanAms in 2014.
She said she is looking forward to competing especially in the 50 backstroke in Rio. That event, which she considers her best, was not part of the 2012 Games.
Now a full-time student at Loyola University-Maryland in Baltimore, Gialamas said she swims from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. every day. She has weight lifting three times a week and additional swim practice twice a week. That all leads to Rio, where she said her goal is to finish in the top eight of each of her events.
“I have worked really hard for this, and I’m excited to see where it goes,” she said.
The Games will take place Sept. 7-18.
GLASA is based in Lake Forest. The agency began in 1999 with the mission “to promote and support the optimal development and well-being of youth, adults and military veterans who have a physical or visual disability through the provision of inclusive recreation, fitness and competitive sports activities.”