GARDEN CITY, N.Y. - Anastasia Pagonis broke four American records, two world records, and earned herself a spot on the U.S. Paralympic swimming team.
"Right now I'm a Paralympian since I qualified for Tokyo," she said.
The 17-year-old from Garden City was diagnosed with autoimmune retinopathy and a genetic disease, which caused her to lose her vision almost three years ago. And despite living a life in a world of complete darkness when she's underwater, Anastasia refuses to stop swimming.
"It was the one place I felt normal I guess," she said. "I don't need my cane [or] anyone to guide me. I feel free."
Free with help from her service dog Radar, a yellow lab who typically goes wherever she does. But he'll sit this next journey out when Anastasia goes to Tokyo with Team USA.
She's also leaving behind her coach, Marc Danin, who has no doubt she's destined for success.
"She's going to get the gold medal," he said. "I'm not worried at all."
Anastasia leaves for Tokyo soon. The Paralympic Games immediately follow the Olympic Games. She'll spend time practicing before going to the Olympic Village to compete for the gold.
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"Knowing I have the flag on my head while swimming, it's amazing," Pagonis said. "It's amazing."
Amazing is also the Long Island swimmer's ability to adapt especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Once businesses shut down, her trainer retrofitted his own pool with pieces of foam along the inner perimeter to protect Anastasia from hurting herself so she could continue training for the trials — nine practices a week for two hours at a time.
She hopes to be a role model for others overcoming adversity as she goes for the gold.
"You can do anything you put your mind to," she said. "I'm going to go for it. And just have fun."