Paralympian Anastasia Pagonis’ striking success story began when she lost her vision at the mere age of 14, a tough time for any teen but even harder when dealing with a life changing disability.
Anastasia explained that it took her about 8 months to regroup herself, in her interview with TODAY, “and then I got it in my head, ‘Okay, I’m blind. Now what am I going to do with my life?’” she quoted during the interview.
Losing her vision and being on the verge of giving up the pastime that she loved took a heavy emotional toll on Anastasia. After months of therapy, the tenacious teen was ready to get back in the pool—only swimming wasn’t enough for Pagonis. She wanted to compete.
But now, she was faced with another dilemma. “Nobody wanted to train the blind girl,” Pagonis recalled in an interview with TEAM USA. After 8 months of searching, Anastasia was lucky to find an amazing coach willing to train her, even putting on blackout goggles to try and figure out a way for Pagonis to swim.
By the age of 16, Pagonis was earning a reputation as a fierce competitor, taking two gold medals at the World Para Swimming World Series in Australia. Even with her newfound sense of accomplishment, Pagonis was reluctant at first to tap into social media.
However, as Pagonis has entered social media- she has realised that her experiences and positive outlook towards life may be a benefit to others and eagerly taken the mantle of role model.
“I want to help people the way that I needed help,” Pagonis told TEAM USA.
She explained that soon after starting on Instagram and Social Media, she was receiving many direct messages and replies saying things like: ‘Wow you really helped me get through little things,’ or, ‘I was getting bullied in school and you helped me get through that,’ or, ‘You let me know how much I was worth.’
Back in the water, Pagonis was truly in her element. “It’s my happy place,” she commented in an interview with TODAY. “It’s the place where I feel like I don’t have a disability and I feel like that’s the only place where I feel free. When I dive in the water, it’s just me in the pool and I feel such a connection with it.”
While she didn’t know it at the time, earlier this year, her happy place was about to get a whole lot happier thanks to some other New York athletes.
The New York Islander’s Puppies With Purpose Program was about to have its first graduate, an adorable Labrador retriever named Radar. And who better to team the pup up with than fellow Long Islander Anastasia Pagonis?
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Anastasia and her adorable guide dog ‘Radar’ began their initial training at her home. On the 19th of August, they were ready to take on the world together. “I’m so lucky to have Radar,” Pagonis told GNN. “He has given me my independence back and is my partner in crime!”
This independence has allowed Anastasia Pagonis to take her place as a resident athlete at Colorado’s Olympic Paralympic Training Center with a goal of competing in the Tokyo 2021 games. “This was a huge and scary decision for me,” Pagonis tweeted. “But sometimes you need to take a leap of faith because if you don’t try, you don’t know. Always follow your dreams,”
Pagonis’ success story shows us that in dull situations and difficult times, we need to persevere in order to flourish. Anastasia could’ve easily given up her passion but she was resilient and that paid off. She accepted her new reality, even if it was less ideal than the one she had before and that is what pushed her forward.
Good Luck Anastasia!