Sophia Vilim

Email: sophiavilim@yahoo.com

City, State, School: Chicago, Il. Jones College Prep

Disability (if applicable): Visual impairment

What are some successes you have had participating in your sport? I have participated in the Illinois High School Associations State Championships for swimming in the races available for Athletes with Disabilities. I participated in three out of the four races. Both freshman and sophomore year I came in first place for all the races I competed in (six in total over the two years). I also hold the state records for all three of these races. Freshman year I broke all three of the previously set records in the races that I participated in. Sophomore year I broke all three of my own records that I set the year before. Along with competing in the Illinois State Meet I also made my high school’s Varsity swim team freshman year and continue to be on that team as I make my way through high school. I also was awarded the Most Improved Award freshmam year for Varsity, and the Coaches Award sophomore year for Varsity. I was also apart of the CPS Forsh-Soph City Championships winning relay team for the 4X100 freestyle relay in 2015.

Did you experience any challenges? Probably the biggest challenge for me was finding the courage and self confidence to actually participate in the meet. There are not very many students with disabilities who participate in swimming in high school, therefore there are not a lot of students who end up going to the State meet. One of the things that you have to do to be able to participate in the State meet is qualify. To do this you must participate in a qualifying meet. Schools are divided up into different sections for this, so the already few students with disabilities who will be at the State meet are made even less at the qualifying meets. Both freshman and sophomore years I have been the only one in my sectional able to participate in the Athletes with Disabilities races, which means I have to swim all three races that I am participating in alone in the pool surrounded by hundreds of people watching me. This is probably one of the the most nerve racking things that I have ever and will ever do. So I think getting over the fear of those very few minutes that I will spend absolutely terrified and looking into the future of the fun and excitement that is to come was and is probably the biggest challenge I have faced.

What first steps did you take to get involved in your sport? As a young child I was never really into sports, but I started swimming competitively when I was eleven and now absolutely love it. At first I only participated in meets that my club team participated in. The club team I was on did not specialize in disabled athletics, so the meets were all just regular ones. But my parents began to research things that I could do because of my disability, and they found a lot of great opportunities. The first adaptive meet I participated in was through the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association. They also helped me find new meets and opportunities to participate in. These opportunities eventually led me to being able to participate in the 2013 National Junior Disabilites Champiomships meet and the U.S. Paralympics Spring Swimming Natioanls 2014 Spring CnaAm. And now I compete in the high school State meet in Illinois. It’s hard to really write out a step by step plan, it all just sort of happened so quickly, but I would say it first takes getting involved, doing research, talking to and meeting new people, and then following though and participating. Participating is inevitably the most rewarding thing you can do, it can lead you to so many new and exciting opportunities and it will create memories that will last a lifetime.

What advice would you give to anyone with a disability who wants to participate in sports? My advice would be to just get out there and do it. There is nothing holding you back except yourself, and once you get out there the possibities are endless. 

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