Meet Anastasia Pagonis, the 17-year-old swimmer who won gold at the Paralympics
Pagonis, who at just 17 is a newly minted gold medalist, just made major waves at her very first Paralympic Games. With sweetly funny TikToks, athletic prowess and irresistible positivity, she’s becoming one of her sport’s brightest stars.
“If you told me this a few years ago, I wouldn’t even think I’d be alive, so just being here and being able to have this experience and this opportunity — unbelievable,” Pagonis said, according to Team USA.
Once Pagonis connected with her coach, Marc Danin, though, she began to feel more comfortable in the pool, she told Team USA. He was the only coach her parents contacted who agreed to train a swimmer who is blind, which he taught himself to do by wearing blacked-out swim goggles.
“When I jump into the water, that’s my happy place,” she told WABC. That’s when I feel free. When I’m out of the water, I always have to rely on someone.”
She’s a major TikTok presence
Many of her videos are instructive, though: Pagonis shows her viewers how she’s able to swim without bumping into the wall ahead of her (someone stands outside the pool and taps her on the head with a foam-tipped pole to let her know when it’s time to turn), how she films TikToks (her iPhone speaks to her with every tap so she knows what to click) and how she does her makeup (she knows which product is which based on its texture and orders them accordingly — and no, she doesn’t have a mirror).
“I just want to teach people that this is blind, not just what you think is blind where you have to wear sunglasses and you can’t do anything,” she told Team USA. “This is blind.”
She’s BFFs with her guide dog
“I just feel so lucky to have him in my life and to take care of me and that I can be independent,” Pagonis said in a video from the NHL. “He’s perfect. We’re a match made in heaven.”
As much as she loves Radar, being away from him in the pool (while he watches over her not far away) is where she feels most at home. She told Olympics.com she hopes her success in swimming and positive TikTok presence inspire other visually impaired teens to persevere.
“Jeez, I lost a whole sense and I’m still OK, I’m still here!” she said in the Olympics.com interview.