Paralympian Anastasia Pagonis’ remarkable success story began when she lost her vision at age 14. A Long Island native, Anastasia practically grew up in the water. She’d taken up competitive freestyle swimming just a few months prior to going totally blind.
After months of therapy, the tenacious teen was ready to get back in the swim—only swimming wasn’t enough for Anastasia. She wanted to compete but her issue was that nobody wanted to train her, especially given her lack of sight. Never the less, Anastasia managed to find an amazing coach who put on black out goggles to try and figure out how this coaching was going to happen.
By the age of 16, Anastasia was earning a reputation as a fierce competitor, taking two gold medals at the World Para Swimming World Series in Australia.
Back in the water, Pagonis was truly in her element. “It’s my happy place,” she told TODAY. “It’s the place where I feel like I don’t have a disability and I feel like that’s the only place where I feel free. When I dive in the water, it’s just me in the pool and I feel such a connection with it.”
Her 'Happy Place' was about to get a whole lot better when The New York Islander’s Puppies With Purpose Program was about to have its first graduate, an adorable Labrador retriever named Radar. And who better to team the pup up with than Anastasia.
Due to the pandemic, Pagonis and Radar began their initial training at her home. On August 19, they were ready to take on the world together. “I’m so lucky to have Radar,” Pagonis told GNN. “He has given me my independence back and is my partner in crime!”
That independence has allowed Anastasia to take her place as a resident athlete at Colorado’s Olympic Paralympic Training Center with a goal of competing in the Tokyo 2021 games. “This was a huge and scary decision for me,” Anastasia tweeted. “But sometimes you need to take a leap of faith because if you don’t try, you don’t know. Always follow your dreams.”
What an amazing story! We'll be following Anastasia in the lead up to Tokyo 2021!