Hannah Aspden of Queens wins Paralympic gold on back
Hannah Aspden, a rising senior from Queens University Charlotte, won gold in the women’s S9 100-meter backstroke on Monday at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Aspden’s time of 1: 09.22 set a new US record and clinched his first career Paralympic gold. She won two bronze medals at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Aspden broke her own record of 1: 09.48, set on June 17 in Minneapolis.
“I’m really, really happy, excited,” Aspden said after the race. “It didn’t seem real, and it still isn’t. It was such a fun race. I don’t know what I was expecting but I just wanted to go and give her everything I had and that’s what I did. It’s been a long, long journey for a lot of people who come here and so just being here, being able to run, is an amazing feeling.
Aspden was born with a congenital hip disarticulation and has no left leg. Graduating in 2018 from Leesville Road High School in Raleigh, Aspden is now majoring in multimedia storytelling in Queens.
Ahead of the games, Aspden said she plans to use her experience from Rio 2016 to help her teammates thrive in one of the toughest sporting competitions in the world. At just 16 in Rio de Janeiro, she was the youngest swimmer on the U.S. team to ever win a medal on the Olympic or Paralympic teams.
His strategy may have worked. In addition to Aspden’s gold medal, Team USA swimmers won six other medals at the Tokyo Paralympic Games on Monday. Aspden will also compete in the 100-meter freestyle, the 200-meter individual medley and the 4×100-meter medley relay.
“I feel less nervous this time knowing that I’ve been there before,” Aspden said in an interview in early August. “I hope to go there with less nerves and more confidence and have a lot more fun with my team.
“It’s pretty good that the Olympics are a few weeks away from us and we can see how it all plays out, especially with all the new restrictions this time around,” Aspden said.
Although the United States Paralympic Swim Team was only allowed one personal care assistant for a list of 34 athletes, Aspden felt confident in her team’s staff to handle the obstacles. The staff includes professionals in coaching, sports medicine and sports psychology. She is also confident in her teammates’ ability to cope with adversity and is ready to help them fight their way through a stimulating sporting event in the world’s largest city.
“In life, everyone is faced with something,” she said. “So I think sport in general, but especially with Paralympic sport, is a great way to show people that they overcome obstacles and do what they love in the best possible way.”
At the Paralympics, veterans and rookies learn from each other, Aspden said. “We can teach young athletes to soak it all in, be part of the excitement, experience and just have fun with it. ”
His first Paralympic experience in Rio was overwhelming, but his mindset changed for Tokyo. “You train for it every day, dream about it for years, and then you get to it and you don’t want it to be that stressful memory,” she said. “You want to leave with great memories and have had a good time with your team. And swim your heart out.
Aspden feels responsible for helping newbies after being in their shoes five years ago. “I want to try to be a mentor to these young athletes, just like the people who were there for me in my first games, showing me the ropes and everything,” she said. “Be flexible, go with the flow, because a lot will happen and a lot will change,” Aspden had planned to tell the rookies. “Control what you can control.”
Aspden also plans to trade pins in Tokyo. Athletes get their credentials on a lanyard with multiple U.S. team pins, she said, which they trade with athletes and officials from other countries. Its Rio cord is fully covered. Among the athletes, it’s kind of a behind-the-scenes competition to see how many different countries they can get.
“It’s a great way for people to meet each other, gain unique memories and bridge cultural gaps,” she said.
When Aspden returned home to Raleigh in March 2020, at the start of the pandemic, she continued to train in a friend’s pool. His sister came in as a coach, giving a whole new meaning to family ties. Over the past year, Aspden has trained with the Titans at TAC (Triangle Aquatic Center) with access to a 50-meter pool, elite coaches and other athletes training for the Games.
“It’s important to remember why you started playing this sport, swimming or doing this thing in the first place,” Aspden said. “When did you find your passion for this?” What brought you here? It’s not about results, it’s not about the money in the end, it’s about doing what you love.
Grace Wesoly of Greensboro is a student at the James L. Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte, which provides the information service in support of local community news.
This story was originally published August 30, 2021 3:06 pm.