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London Calling

ONU swimmer and coach set their sights for gold.


With three silver medals from the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, China, a gold and silver from the 2011 Parapan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, and a handful of American and world records set throughout her career, Amanda Everlove is Ohio Northern University’s most decorated swimmer.

Everlove receives one of her silver medals at the iconic Water Cube
during the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, China.

She also is its most unique.

The second-year pharmacy student from Wichita, Kan., is finishing up her classes and preparing for exams, while also training for a spot on Team USA, which will compete at this summer’s Paralympic Games in London, England. The Paralympic Games are the second-largest sporting event in the world — an international multi-sport competition for physically impaired athletes. The games immediately follow the Olympics (summer and winter) every four years and share all the same facilities.

Apart from each athlete’s disability, not much separates a Paralympic athlete from an Olympic one. They both have extraordinary talent, determination and drive that allow them to accomplish incredible things. And, no matter what, they persevere.

As a child, Everlove learned perseverance as a condition of life.

At 8 years old, after being thrown from a horse, Everlove lost the use of her right arm. The accident tore the C5 through C8 nerves in her neck and the T1 thoracic nerve in her upper spine. Even after undergoing multiple surgeries to repair the nerves, she was left with only limited mobility and feeling.

Still, this tragic accident didn’t stop her from doing what she loved. A naturally athletic child, she gravitated towards swimming after using it for physical therapy and began training seriously after learning about the Paralympic games and the challenge they provided her competitive nature.

“Disabled athletes are pretty much praised for doing anything, and if you don’t know there is another arena, then you don’t know that you have a reason to get better,” says Everlove. “It was frustrating because people would congratulate me when I knew I wasn’t the best. I still struggle with that because I have very high standards for myself and my performance.”

Those high standards have led to high achievement. In a preliminary race at the 2008 Games in Beijing, Everlove set the world record in the 100-meter butterfly, a mark that stood until August of last year. She currently holds American records in the 200-meter butterfly and the 50-meter butterfly.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had an Olympic or Paralympic athlete at ONU that has achieved the level of success that Amanda has,” says ONU swimming and diving coach Peggy Ewald.

Ewald has her own relationship with the Paralympic games, serving as both a U.S. national team coach in Beijing and London and as a member of the U.S. Paralympic High Performance staff. She started with the Paralympics after working with a former student who became disabled in an automobile accident. Like Everlove, this student was encouraged to try swimming as a way to rehab her injury. Ewald saw her in the pool attempting to rehab and offered to help.

Everlove's close relationship with Coach Ewald helped bring her to ONU.

“I was in the water with anatomy books on the deck, and I would ask her to move certain parts of her body, and then I’d try to trace where the nerve ending connected to the muscle. The light bulb went off then because I understood that she didn’t have the necessary nerves firing to do a particular movement,” she says. “So we’d try a different movement to attempt to accomplish the same goal. It took a lot of trial and error, but she was very willing, like Amanda is very willing, to allow us as coaches to fail at some of our experimentation in an attempt to make them faster.”

Ewald’s understanding of disabilities and her creativity in coaching beyond them contributed to Everlove’s decision to enroll at ONU after her initial college experience at another school didn’t work out. She had applied and been accepted to ONU previously, and last summer the timing seemed right to try it again.

“I was quite literally at a crossroads in my life. I had another opportunity for swimming, but it didn’t provide me with a life goal; it would have just been swimming. I chose here, where I have a life goal and a swimming goal,” she says.

For Everlove, swimming is all about goals. She first just wanted to qualify for the Olympics in Beijing. She did. Then, she set a goal to win a medal at the games. She won three silvers. Now she’s hopeful for London but won’t go beyond that. Her goals are all the little ones along the way. She does, however, still have one big goal.

“I want that feeling of knowing I swam my absolute best — time-wise, performance-wise, effort-wise, technique-wise. That is what is most important to me. Because in Beijing, I had the best swims of my life, and I haven’t been able to equal them yet,” she says.

Qualification for the London games is in June. She’ll see where things go from there in terms of her Paralympic career, but one thing is set — she’s returning to the ONU swimming and diving team next year, much to the delight of her coach.