GARDEN CITY, N.Y. - U.S. Paralympian Anastasia Pagonis is continuing to defy all odds.
"I just couldn't believe any of this was happening," she said.
The 17-year-old from Garden City lost her vision almost three years ago after being diagnosed with autoimmune retinopathy and a genetic disorder.
Pagonis won the first gold for the U.S. Paralympic swimming team in the Tokyo Paralympics and set a new world record in the 400-meter freestyle.
"I definitely swam my heart out," she said. "I gave it all I had."
Anastasia, who swam four races, also picked up a bronze medal. She worked out a unique method with her "tapper" — the person standing at the edge of the pool who lets her know when she's nearing the wall.
"One hit meant gold, two taps meant silver, and three meant bronze," Pagonis said. "So I got that one tap on the head and I was like, 'OK, are you going to hit me again? There's no way I got gold right now' as I waited for the next tap."
Anastasia returned home earlier this week to signs and lots of celebrating with two medals as proof she is a champion.
"There's one groove that says gold, the bottom says what event I swam, and in braille, it says 'Tokyo 2020,'" she said.
As for the future, Anastasia is taking a well-deserved break but already mentioned that she has her mind set on Paris 2024.
"I want to show people you can do it and there's hope," she said. "Sometimes things are hard and it takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears but it's worth it."
Worth it to proudly represent Team USA.
"Hearing 'USA Anastasia Pagonis' — I'm swimming for the United States of America — is insane," she said.