My Experience As a Quadriplegic Competitive Swimmer

My name is Eden Schroeder and I am a 21-year-old quadriplegic paraswimmer. I started swimming competitively at around six years old. At the time, I didn't have a choice in participating in the sport because my parents chose it for me, but I quickly fell in love. Growing up swimming provided an amazing support system as I navigated adolescence. Throughout that time I had many different coaches and was a member of multiple teams. At around 10 years old, one of my coaches' daughters was even a Paralympic swimmer and she ended up training at the same pool I was at for a few years. At the time, that was a confusing situation for me because I was so ignorant to the world of parasports. Paraswimming specifically was a world I never could have imagined being a part of.

Eden Schroeder at the pool

At 18, I chose to move on from swimming as a sport to fully immerse myself in the standard college experience. Then, during my first semester at Florida State, I was paralyzed in a diving accident which completely severed my spinal cord at the C5 vertebrae. The whole thing is pretty ironic considering I'd been diving for swim meets since my age was still in the single digits.

Eden Schroeder preparing to swim

After about six months of adapting to my new body, I decided to get in the pool again for recreational therapy. I had been told that many people become fearful of the water after their injury, especially those involved in diving accidents. While I can definitely understand this, it fortunately wasn't the case for me. I immediately loved the feeling of freedom that the water gives in being weightless, considering how my body weighs me down constantly in my everyday life. A little over a year into my recovery, I was at Shepherd Center in Atlanta to try adaptive scuba diving for the first time. Conveniently, the Shepherd Sharks swim team was also practicing. After watching me swim, the swim coach pulled me aside to ask if I would come to a practice and try out competitive swimming again. At the time, I didn't even think that quadriplegics could swim competitively. It was also pretty daunting thinking about competing against other people when I had no idea about any of the rules. Eventually, I started going to practice routinely and slowly figured out how to efficiently and safely swim as a quadriplegic. I had officially reignited my passion for competitive swimming.

Eden Schroeder being lowered into the pool

A few months later, the time came for my first paraswim meet, which was being held at the Paralympic training facility in Colorado Springs. This in itself was such a cool opportunity to see where some incredibly athletes have trained. Swimming in this meet was truly such an eye-opening experience. I saw so many people with different types of disabilities swimming and I had never felt more comfortable in a space since becoming disabled. Because disability in general is so diverse, each athlete is classified to race against people with similar functions. The classification system ranges from S1 to S14. This includes physical and intellectual disability. I was classified as an S1, which is the most physically impaired class. Apparently, there aren't a lot of female paraswimmers who are S1s, so let's just say the competition is pretty light.

Eden Schroeder speaking with her coach

As I've continued my journey with paraswimming, I have met a lot of amazing people. From athletes to coaches and volunteers, everyone seems to be there for a purpose and are on their own inspiring journeys. One of my swim meets in Georgia was actually directed by one of my old coaches from when I was able-bodied; the same coach with a daughter who is a Paralympic swimmer. Talking with her at that meet was truly a full-circle moment for me.

Eden Schroeder

In December of 2023, I traveled to Orlando, Florida to compete at Nationals. I had qualified for this meet at one of my previous competitions. This was something I was never able to achieve before my injury, and something I definitely never thought I would do after my injury. In reflecting on Nationals, I am grateful for how my body is able to withstand the stress of a big event like that. The anxiety of a high-stakes competition in addition to some of the comorbidities of paralysis definitely adds up over the course of four days. For one thing, not being able to regulate my body temperature and swimming in an unheated pool in December can be challenging. Another funny moment happened during one of my races where I got water in my lungs on the turn. While I was trying to get it out, I was disqualified for hitting a lane rope. No breaks for coughing with partially paralyzed lungs, I guess! But overall it has been nice to be in an environment where there are no breaks because everyone is navigating disability and we're all seen as equals. I ended up getting bronze in my 50 back against an S3 and an S5, which I was very proud of. I also set two American records for female S1 and in the 50 back and 100 back.

Overall, I have really been enjoying my journey back to competitive swimming and want to spread the word to my community. The environment of paraswim is so unique. It is so inclusive yet protected. This is a space where I feel seen for who I am, and I'm never reduced to my disability. Paraswim has given me so much confidence and an overall new identity following paralysis. When swimming, I am not just disabled; I am an athlete. In the future, I hope to not just see more paralyzed swimmers, but quadriplegic swimmers. Check out USparaswimming.org for more information!

About the Author

Eden Schroeder

Hi! My name is Eden Schroeder and I am a 21-year-old college student studying psychology in hopes of completing my doctorate. I sustained a C5 spinal cord injury in November of 2020 and have since found a passion for adaptive sports. I enjoy traveling, camping, and finding new ways to make the outdoors accessible in my free time. My favorite food is Mexican...especially the cheese dip! I hope you enjoy learning about paraswimming!


Date: 1/8/2024 12:00:00 AM


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