After winning her second Paralympic medal in as many days, Canada's 19-year-old Summer Mortimer promised there is much more to come in her young swimming career.
As an up-and-coming able-bodied swimmer, Mortimer was once considered a prospect for the 2012 London Olympics, before a trampoline accident in late 2008 shattered most of the bones in her feet. On Friday, she set a new world record while winning Paralympic gold in the women's S10 50-metre freestyle event, one day after swimming to silver in the 200-metre individual medley.
She still has four more events left to swim in a Paralympics that has, for her, already been stirring and life-changing. So the young woman from Ancaster, Ont., is noticeably excited about what is yet to unfold.
"When I was expected to be a hopeful for London 2012, I was only 14," said Mortimer in London after the race. "To be able to do this as a result of my accident, I don't know if it was meant to be my life path or not, but I'm loving it, and it's just the start of it really, so I'm super excited to see what happens as I continue my career."
Mortimer won Friday's race in 28.10 seconds, smashing the world record of 28.17 she set at the Paralympic trials in Montreal. The Canadian touched the wall just ahead of New Zealand's Sophie Pascoe, who settled for silver in 28.24 seconds, the same woman who beat Mortimer on Thursday.
Mortimer has spent much time in London reflecting and Tweeting about her appreciation for her journey. Also once a competitive trampolinist, Mortimer had bounced off the trampoline and missed a foam landing pit, landing feet-first on cement. After her accident, she spent several months in a wheelchair and had pins and plates inserted into her feet and her left foot is clubbed. She learned to walk and swim again in a lengthy rehabilitation. Inhibited rotation now often causes her feet to freeze up in training.
Mortimer races in S10, which is defined as the most minimal of the physical impairment classifications in Paralympic swimming. She says anonymous people have questioned whether she belongs in disabled sports. She also holds world records in the 200-metre individual medley, 100-metre freestyle, and 100-metre backstroke events.
She says she struggles daily with pain in her feet and resulting tendinitis in her legs – conditions now compounded by the cool, damp weather in London. She walks with little more than a tiny hitch. The spirited teen even had a little dance in her step as she entered the pool deck Friday.
"It's surreal. It's great, I couldn't be happier," Mortimer said. "I wanted this race, I was mad at anybody who was going to try and take it from me. That worked. Pure hard-core determination."
Canada also earned two silver medals in the pool on Friday, bringing the Paralympic swimming total to five.
Nathan Stein, 20, of Maple Ridge, B.C., took silver in the men's S10 50-metre freestyle. He was diagnosed with osteochondritis dissecans at 12, a condition which has caused him to have 11 leg surgeries.
"My first Paralympics, can't ask for more," Stein said. "I went a lot faster than I thought I was going to go. The goal was to go 23.9 at the Games and to go 23.5: nothing but good news."
Brianna Nelson of Victoria, B.C., earned silver in the women's S7 50-metre butterfly. The 20-year-old had finished shy of a medal when she swam in six events as a 16-year-old at the Beijing Paralympics. She was born with cerebral palsy, which affects her right side.
"I wasn't expecting that at all, in any event," said Nelson, who was seeded 10th in the event. "The strategy was just to go and not think of anything. Spin the arms and just kick and go. This is really overwhelming."
MCLACHLAN TAKES BRONZE
Canada's Virginia McLachlan ran to a bronze medal in the women's 200-metre race on Friday, securing Canada's first track-and-field medal of the London Paralympic Games.
The 19-year-old University of Windsor student competes in the T35 classification for track athletes with cerebral palsy. She took up the sport to help with her physical therapy. She finished the race in 34.31 seconds, behind gold-medal winner Ping Liu of China (32.72) and silver-medalist Oxana Corso of Italy (33.68).
MacLachlan is also slated to run 100-metre race next Friday. She came to London ranked third in the world in both events and earned silver in each at the 2011 Parapan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, last fall.