In this season of the Olympics ending in Rio last week and the Paralympics getting ready to begin, I have been thinking about the athletes often lately. It is common knowledge these days that Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian in history, with a total of 28 medals. Phelps’ accomplishments are impressive, and I have always loved the story that he started swimming as a way to channel his energy because he is affected by Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It is probably safe to say that in the last few years, Michael Phelps has become, to many people in America at least, a household name. He is undoubtedly worth millions of dollars and has many endorsement deals.
Now I am going to tell you the name of another American swimmer. Her name is Trischa Zorn-Hudson. Never heard of her? I’m not surprised. She is the most decorated athlete in Paralympic history and she has won 55 medals over the course of seven Paralympic competitions, (41 gold, 9 silver and 5 bronze) starting in Arnhem in 1980, and ending in 2004 in Athens. As a result of being born with a condition called aniridia, (without the irises of her eyes) she has impaired vision.
The first question that comes to mind for me is this:
Why do most people in society know what Michael Phelps has achieved while most have never heard Trischa Zorn Hudson’s name?
Are her accomplishments any less impressive than his?
Did she put any less effort into her training?
As a former (almost) Paralympic athlete myself, I can only guess that her intense workouts could be grueling, and every day she poured as much of herself into them as she could. Because of her disability, she also had to do something else that I would be willing to bet Michael Phelps and most other swimmers rarely have to think about. In a View News Article published on the usaswimming.org website, she said “I would have to count my strokes from one end of the pool in an outdoor pool. Then, if you go to an indoor pool, if there is not enough lighting, it is pretty dark, I would have to do the same thing.”
Her amazing accomplishments don’t end with her medal count. Ms. Zorn-Hudson was the first ever person with a disability to earn a full athletic scholarship to a Division 1 NCAA University, the University of Nebraska. She was inducted into the Paralympic Hall of Fame in 2012.
In the same View News article, Ms. Zorn-Hudson talked about her various experiences over seven Olympic Games. “In 1992, that was the first time at the Paralympics that we were able to hear our individual national anthem, [instead of] a Games Anthem. In 1996, we were able to have the same venues as the Olympic Games. In 2000, having similar uniform funding, and then in 2004, you were experiencing the incentive money for your achievements for your Games, getting paid for your medals. That’s huge. When I was swimming, I had one sponsor…”
Only one? Seriously?
A recent article on CNN Money called “Paralympians gold medals are worth less than those of Olympians” stated that Paralympians get only $5,000 from the U.S. Olympic Committee for winning gold. Olympians get $25,000 for their gold medals. Silver medals are worth $15,000 for Olympians, while Paralympians only get $3,000. Bronze medals are worth $10,000 for Olympians and $2,000 for Paralympians.”
According to her Linkin profile, while attending the University of Nebraska, Ms. Zorn-Hudson earned a degree in Elementary Education and Special Education. She taught school for nine years, earned a Master’s degree in School Administration and then a law degree. She currently works at the Department of Veteran’s Affairs.
She has a notable career outside the world of sports. That is something Michael Phelps may never need.
In my life, I have had many experiences when I was not treated with the same respect as someone who does not have a disability. When I see glaring examples of this “second class” or “less than” treatment, it totally drives me nuts. And for me and countless other people who happen to have disabilities, I think that is absolutely understandable. That is the definition of ableism. It just feels completely unfair.
Ms. Zorn-Hudson was an incredible athlete with a visual impairment who is the most decorated Paralympian in history. She is quoted as saying “Swimming is a sport that allows you to be free and not really restricted in any way.”
It seems very sad to me that most of the general population has no knowledge of her numerous accomplishments.
In this instance, perhaps it is our society that has a lack of vision…