Salida swimmer Sophia Herzog, 24, is preparing for the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Paralympics in August. She was accepted onto the U.S. Paralympics swim team as a result of trials June 17-19.
At the trials Herzog won the 100-meter breaststroke with a time of 1 minute, 36 seconds; placed second in the 200 individual medley at 3:09; swam the 50 butterfly in 41.2; and the 400 freestyle in 6:05.
Herzog learned she was named second on her team in the official team announcement on June 20.
She will compete in the Paralympics Aug. 30 in 100 breaststroke, 50 fly, 200 IM and 400 freestyle.
Previously, she earned a silver medal at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games in the 100-meter breaststroke in the SB6 category, which includes her disability of dwarfism.
Now, a little more than a month away from her second Paralympics, Herzog said, “There is a target on my back.” In her first Paralympics she earned a medal as an “underdog.” Now as she is planning her return, she said the pressure is heightened. Will she be a second-time medalist?
In fall 2019 Herzog moved with her boyfriend to Salida, where her parents had helped her find her trainer, Wendy Gorie, who also coaches the Salida High School girls’ swimming team.
In the following months, COVID-19 presented challenges. The world had shut down. The pools and her training room were no longer open. The 2020 Olympics and Paralympics were canceled.
Herzog had to find a different approach to train in March 2020. She turned to the whitewater Arkansas River.
She swam in a full-body wetsuit for an hour at each time. “It was freezing and burning the entire time I was in the water,” Herzog said. The pool shutdowns were on and off for four months.
When pools finally opened, Herzog trained at Salida Hot Springs Aquatic Center, nine times a week in the water, two times a week in the weight room and one to two yoga sessions a week. Each session ranged from 1½ to 2½ hours. She said her busy schedule is not only physically demanding but also mentally demanding as she represents the U.S.
In addition to her training, commercial shoots and interviews, she decided to give back to the community in the best way she could: by swimming. The Salida High School team trains at Salida Hot Springs Aquatic Center, where Herzog also trains, so she helps the high school swimmers improve their technique and offers encouragement.
The Paralympics Games are stressful in general, but during a COVID-19 year expectations and rules are heightened, Herzog said. She must follow strict precautions both during the games and beforehand.
Herzog is required to wear masks around everyone except for three people: her mother, father and her boyfriend. She also can’t test positive for COVID-19 in the 90 days leading up to the games and must be careful about socializing.
At the games, she will be staying at the Olympic Village. This year, the pandemic is causing athletes to have minimal traveling.
Athletes will not be allowed to associate with other teams often, due to the difficulty of contact tracing. Outside spectators, such as family members and significant others, are not allowed.
As the rules pile up, there is another obstacle to face: The Washington Post reported, “Many weather-watchers and Olympic historians predict this will be the hottest Summer Games ever.”
Despite the pandemic and its related obstacles, Herzog said, “I am excited to see many of my friends at the Paralympics.”
She said the food court in the Olympic Village will offer comfort food, along with an authentic Japanese section. “I will be there quite often,” she said with a laugh.
Herzog has plans for her life after the games, when she will retire, travel to visit old friends and hopefully work for the city of Salida.