Ten Para Swimmers To Watch At The World Championships

by Paul D. Bowker

Madeira, a Portuguese island located off the coast of northwest Africa, goes global over the next week.

The 2022 Para Swimming World Championships begin Sunday and run through June 18 at the Penteada Olympic Swimming Complex. It’s the biggest Para sporting event ever hosted by Portugal and was delayed a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic pushing the Olympic and Paralympic Games back to 2021.

More than 600 swimmers from 70-plus nations are competing, including 23 from the United States. Team USA’s squad includes 21 who competed in the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. Among them are Paralympic gold medalist Anastasia Pagonis, world-record holder and Paralympic silver medalist Leanne Smith and two-time Paralympic Tokyo gold medalist Robert Griswold.

Team USA won 35 medals in Tokyo and also won 35 medals in the last world championships held in 2019 in London.

So what do the next seven competition days look like?

“I think from an expectation standpoint, the year after a Games is a little tempered anyway, generally speaking,” said Nathan Manley, U.S. Paralympics Swimming high-performance director. “Not every athlete looks at it that way. Some kind of maintain that intensity better than others.”

Here’s a look at 10 USA swimmers to watch:

Rudy Garcia-Tolson after competing in the men's 200-meter individual medley SM7 Heat 1 at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 27, 2021 in Tokyo.


This could be one of the last times that we see Garcia-Tolson in the pool at a major international competition. A five-time Paralympic medalist who competed in his first Paralympic Games at age 16 in 2004 and won a gold medal in 200-meter individual medley, Garcia-Tolson, a resident of Colorado Springs, Colorado, says Madeira will be last major swimming competition as he switches his Paralympic focus for Paris 2024 to paratriathlon. Among his scheduled events in Madeira is the 200 individual medley on Sunday.

A two-time Paralympian, Griswold has been a gold-medal machine over the last year. He claimed his first Paralympic gold medals in Tokyo with wins in the 100-meter backstroke and butterfly events. Griswold, of Freehold, New Jersey, won two more gold medals and a bronze medal at the Para Swimming World Series in Indianapolis. He’ll swim in the 100 fly, 100 back, 100 free and 200 individual medley in Madeira.

McClain Hermes competes during the women's 100-meter breaststroke SB11 Heat 1 at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Sept. 1, 2021 in Tokyo.


A two-time Paralympian from Georgia who won five medals, including a gold, in the 2017 world championships. Hermes is a medal contender in the S11 vision-impaired classification. She’ll swim in the women’s 50-, 100- and 400-meter free events, as well as the 100 backstroke. Her world title in 2017 came in the 400 free.

Abbas will proudly put on an American cap for the first time in a world championship meet. He left Kabul, Afghanistan, at age 16 and wound up leading the Paralympic Refugee Team into the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. He obtained his U.S. citizenship this year and won his first gold medal as an American in the 50 butterfly at the Para Swimming World Series in Indianapolis. “I want to test myself against the best swimmers in the world,” he told He’ll race in the men’s 50 freestyle and butterfly events.

Elizabeth Marks competes during the women's 100-meter breaststroke SB7 final at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016 on Sept. 10, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.


Kim, a 15-year-old homeschooler from Salt Lake City, is making her world championships debut. Her first race will come on the opening day of competition in the women’s 50-meter freestyle. Her busy schedule also includes the 200 individual medley, and 100 freestyle and backstroke. “Shows some real promise,” Manley said.

After breaking a world record to win a gold medal in her final in Tokyo, Marks burst into tears as the American flag was raised during the medal ceremony for the women’s 100-meter backstroke. She won three medals in Tokyo, which was her second Paralympic Games after turning to swimming as part of her recovery from an injury sustained during her U.S. Army service in Iraq. She also won gold in the 100 backstroke in the 2019 world championships. Marks, a resident of Colorado Springs, will compete in the 100 backstroke, 100 freestyle and 50 free in Madeira.

Anastasia Pagonis poses during the podium ceremony of the women's 200-meter individual medley SM11 finals at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 30, 2021 in Tokyo.


Pagonis, a teenager from Long Island, broke the world record in the women’s 400-meter freestyle twice last year, the first time at U.S. Paralympic Team Trials and then again in Tokyo when she won a gold medal in her Paralympic debut. Her record in the 400-meter S11 at Tokyo was 4 minutes, 54.49 seconds. Her big moment in the 400 will come on the last day of the world championships.

The teen from Atlanta broke a world record in the women’s 100-meter backstroke S13 in her preliminary heat race in Tokyo, then she broke it again in the finals to win her first Paralympic gold medal in her Paralympic debut. She won the finals in 1:04.64. Pergolini will swim a 100-meter triple in Madeira: backstroke, butterfly and freestyle. Then she’ll also swim in the 50 free and 200 individual medley.

Morgan Ray competes during the men's 100-meter breaststroke finals at the 2021 U.S. Paralympic Swimming Trials on June 17, 2021 in Minneapolis.


A college student at the University of North Florida, the Jacksonville native is pounding the water after missing out on making the Paralympics team last year. He won the men’s 100-meter breaststroke at the Para Swimming World Series in Indy and finished third in the 200 IM. “A good example of one of those athletes that kind of just gets an extra motivation from missing that goal,” Manley said.

Smith, a Paralympic silver medalist from Salem, Massachusetts, had a memorable start on the first day of the Para Swimming World Series in Indianapolis. She set world records in the 100-meter freestyle and 200 freestyle S3 events. By the end of the meet, she had three world records and a spot on the world championship team.  She is the defending world champion in the 100 freestyle, 50 breaststroke and 150-meter individual medley S3, and will aim to defend all three in Madeira. She’s also scheduled to race in the 50 backstroke, 50 freestyle and 100 freestyle.

Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1996, when he was an assistant bureau chief in Atlanta. He is a freelance contributor to on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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