Elana Unger is the first-ever para swimmer for McClain High School, and she has made it to the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) State Tournament to be held in Canton on Saturday, Feb. 26, where she will be competing against other para swimmers.
The McClain sophomore has been swimming competitively for four years and will be competing in the 100-meter backstroke and 50-meter freestyle events at the tournament. She has also competed in relay events at past swim meets.
She said making it to the state tournament is the proudest accomplishment of her time as a swimmer. “I just like the aspect of it that when you’re on a team you’re like family, and the adrenaline rush when you get a personal record,” she said.
Cerebral palsy affecting her left side was caused by a stroke at birth, but she hasn’t let it get in the way of her swimming goals. “I just keep going, and I don’t listen to anyone telling me that I can’t do something,” said Unger. “Once I have my mind set on a goal I want, I go and achieve it.”
Her efforts as a para swimmer can prove to be challenging. “It’s difficult,” she said. “My knee locks up when I do the backstroke sometimes, and once my knee locks up my arm and my hand kind of give out a little bit, but I keep going.”
Unger’s trainer said it can actually be more difficult for Unger to swim than someone without a leg because a person’s body can compensate for not having a leg. “Since my whole left side is messed up, once one thing goes the other thing goes, and it’s really hard to keep moving,” said Unger.
Ronda McAdams, Unger’s mother, said there was no way to know ahead of time if Unger would be competitive as a swimmer. “From a parent’s standpoint, one of the best things we ever heard from the high-risk clinic at the Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati is that they don’t know,” said McAdams. “They’re not going to predict, but wait and see, so we never set any expectations either way on if she was going to be very successful or if she was going to be more disabled that she is.”
Unger is the only swimmer from McClain to compete in the state tournament this year. “For the rest of my team, they unfortunately didn’t make it past districts, and the girls didn’t make it to districts, so I’m the only one still swimming, and I’m the only one going to state,” she said.
Although she is still competing against other teams, Unger is judged by beating her own personal best times. She has set personal records for her past four swim meets.
Her record time is 41.52 seconds in the 50-meter freestyle.
“I’m hoping to get in the top three at state, but right now I’m in the top five,” she said.
Reach John Hackley at 937-402-2571.