Sports

Blind Paralympic athlete “swims by faith, not by sight” and helps the homeless

American swimmer McClain Hermes has turned her “disability” into her “ability”

As the 2016 Paralympic Games begin in Rio this month, one athlete is already making waves with her strong faith and non-profit organization that collects shoes for the homeless. Even though she is only 15 years old, American swimmer McClain Hermes has turned her “disability” into her “ability” and continues to reach out to others in need.

What is her handicap? She is blind.

When Hermes was eight years old, she had four emergency eye surgeries due to retina detachments. According to her website, she is completely blind in her right eye, but still has some vision in her left eye. She describes her vision, writing, “It’s like seeing through a little straw and through that straw there is not much clarity.” This limited vision will not last long and doctors have said she will likely lose even that vision within a few years.

How does she do it?

According to Hermes, she “swims by faith, not by sight.”

She also has the assistance of coaches and family members while she swims.

“At meets and practices, I am tapped on the head by a parent or coach in order to know when to expect the wall for flip turns, open turns and finishes. The tapper is a golf ball retriever with a tennis ball attached to the end of it. The golf ball retriever is extended out to tap me one or two strokes from the wall.”

Ever since losing her eyesight, Hermes had hopes of competing in the Rio Paralympic Games and trained as hard as she could, never losing sight of her dreams. In the process she was able to excel in the pool and set new records. Hermes currently holds 14 American Records Short Course Yards (SCY) and 2 long course records (total of 16) for the Paralympic vision class S12. She is currently the #1 swimmer in the Paralympic vision class S12 for the United States and within the top 15 internationally. She also currently holds 1 World record in the 1500M Freestyle and 2 Pan American records.

In an interview with WSB TV she said, “I’ve turned my disability into my ability… Bad things have happened to me, but you can’t let that hold you down if you have something that you love.”

At about the same time she started to lose her eyesight, Hermes, with the help of her father, started a non-profit organization called, “Shoes for the Souls.” The initiative was born when “her father showed her a magazine article about a shoe recycling program [and] ‘We decided (that instead of) recycling them, we would collect them and give them to people that needed them.’”

Since starting the initiative in 2009, Hermes has collected over 15,000 pairs of shoes and they don’t intend on stopping. Shoes are a necessary item for the homeless, especially during the cold winter months and so they are always in need of donations.

Hermes will compete in the 100 breaststroke, 400 freestyle and 100 backstroke events, which will be live-streamed on various networks.

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Philip Kosloski

Philip Kosloski is a husband and father of five, and staff writer at Aleteia. He also writes for The Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network (Apostleship of Prayer), and blogs at the National Catholic Register.