Paralympian Sophia Herzog Hopes To Inspire Next Generation Of Athletes, Grow The Paralympic Movement
by Sophia Herzog
Sophia Herzog on the podium at the Para Swimming World Championship on Dec. 3, 2017 in Mexico City, Mexico.
What's Your Why presented by DeVry highlights athlete’s individual motivations that drive them to pursue greatness on their journey to achieve their Olympic & Paralympic dreams.
What drives me to pursue greatness and my Paralympic dream is the ability to push my body to uncomfortable limits every day. I love to see how far I can go and what I’m able to accomplish that maybe just a couple months ago I didn’t think was possible. I love the mental drive elite athletes need to be able to be incredibly disciplined 365 days a year.
My goal is to inspire the next generation of athletes, specifically the next generation of female Paralympic athletes. I want to show them how to strive for excellence and happiness in their desired sport discipline, and the importance of breaking down stereotypes and barriers that automatically set us up for failure and doubt.
I hope my athletic career has inspired the LPA community. With a new generation of up-and-coming athletes, I hope to see increased inclusivity. In the able-bodied sports world, I’ve seen an increase in the inclusivity of athletes with physical disabilities by allowing them not only to participate but compete in any sport at any level. I hope to see more Paralympic athletes competing in collegiate level sports as that was only just beginning as I was attending college (in the swimming world at least).
I was lucky enough to receive a scholarship to DeVry University and earned a Bachelor’s of Business Communications and graduated in the fall of 2019. DeVry helped me become the athlete I am today. I was able to go to school at my own pace and it allowed me to complete all my courses online so I could take my schoolwork wherever I was competing in the world.
But it wasn’t easy. I needed to be even more disciplined to succeed in school. Sometimes after hard weeks of training or even a weekend of racing, I still had to find energy and motivation to accomplish my schoolwork.
College taught me how to utilize my time as efficiently as possible. I remember when I was working at the Olympic & Paralympic Training Center as a tour guide, swimming, and going to school; I would bring my laptop and do all my discussion questions while at work when it was slow and I was working in-between training sessions. However, I think elite athletes thrive in those types of situations. We figure out how to best use our time and we just go to work and when the day is done, we recover hard and do it all over again. I myself can say I was thriving in that high-stress (training, working, swimming, training) environment.
After the Paralympic Games Rio 2016, I set a goal to have my bachelor’s degree completed before the start of the 2020 Paralympics so I could have a smooth transition into the job world once I retire from my sports career. I wanted to have a fall back once my sports career was done. It helped created a balance while I was swimming to be able for a couple hours each day disassociate from swimming and put my full focus into something else.
The classes that I took broadened my horizon in the business communication world, and I look forward to putting the skills I learned to work one day soon. Furthering education this day in age is crucial for any individual no matter what their professional passions are.
Off the field of play, I hope to grow the Paralympic movement. Everyone (not their fault, just lack of knowledge) is constantly mistaking me as an Olympian or I hear constantly, “You’re the girl training for the Olympics this summer!” I hope one day the Paralympic movement will be so well known in the United States that when a Paralympian is walking down the grocery store aisle a stranger can say, “You’re the girl/boy training for the Paralympics.”
I hope this increased awareness could help open doors for the younger generation. The exposure would allow athletes who might have never known of the adaptive world sports and it give them an outlet and community they’ve been yearning for.
In addition, I hope to bring a level of kindness to the world. As a minority in the U.S., I am usually the first to be squeezed out of opportunities. It can be hard at times, but kindness always wins. Plus, the world always needs more kindness.