GP grad ready for Rio

Told two months ago that she didn’t make the U.S. Par­a­lympic team, swim­mer Ha­ley Ber­an­baum, of Sno­homish, got a sec­ond chance to com­pete in Brazil.

The Daily Herald - - FRONT PAGE - By Rich Myhre Her­ald Writer

It be­gan as one of the best mo­ments of Ha­ley Ber­an­baum’s life, though it soon be­came one of the most dis­ap­point­ing. And then it be­came one of the best again. In July, the 20-year-old Ber­an­baum, a 2014 grad­u­ate of Sno­homish’s Glacier Peak High School, was named to the United States swim­ming team for the up­com­ing Par­a­lympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. She earned her spot with a strong show­ing at the U.S. team tri­als … or so she thought.

A few days af­ter be­ing told she was on the team, Ber­an­baum was in­formed there had been a mis­cal­cu­la­tion (in Par­a­lympic swim­ming, world rank­ings and other for­mu­las are used to help pick the U.S. team, not tri­als re­sults alone). She would in­stead be first al­ter­nate, a turn of events that was, she said with un­der­state­ment, “a lit­tle dif­fi­cult emo­tion­ally.”

“It was pretty gut-wrench­ing,” ac­knowl­edged Nathan Manley, her coach. “You have a dream you’re work­ing to­ward, you think you’re there, you’re very ex­cited about it, and then sud­denly you have it pulled away.”

Ber­an­baum, who was in Colorado Springs, Colorado, at the time, took two days off to re­group. She then re­turned to the pool and con­tin­ued to train with her team­mates, though still ex­pect­ing to be an al­ter­nate. But when the Rus­sian team was banned from the Par­a­lympics over a dop­ing and coverup scan­dal, ad­di­tional spots opened up for other coun­tries. The U.S. team was al­lowed three ad­di­tional swim­mers, in­clud­ing Ber­an­baum.

The word came from Manley two weeks ago, “and when he told me I was go­ing (to Rio de Janeiro) I freaked out a lit­tle,” Ber­an­baum said. “I jumped up and down. I was very happy. … There was a lot of re­lief.”

“She was su­per ex­cited,” Manley said. “And there were some tears.”

The team trav­eled to Hous­ton for an­other week of train­ing be­fore fly­ing to Brazil last Fri­day. The Games be­gin Wed­nes­day and con­tinue through Sept. 18 at the same venues used dur­ing the re­cent Olympic Games.

The Par­a­lympics are “every­thing we’ve

trained for,” Ber­an­baum said. “It’s our Olympics. It’s just as big a deal to us as (the Olympics are) to any able-bod­ied ath­lete. We’re part of Team USA, and we get to rep­re­sent our coun­try and do the sport we love at the high­est level pos­si­ble.”

Born with achon­dropla­sia, a form of short-limbed dwarfism, Ber­an­baum stands 3 feet, 9 inches. Some sports were not prac­ti­cal for her as a younger girl, but swim­ming seemed like a good op­tion. She started with the StingRay Swim Club of Sno­homish County in her early teens, and within a few years she was competing in­ter­na­tion­ally and set­ting Amer­i­can records in her Par­a­lympic clas­si­fi­ca­tion of 5, which sig­ni­fies an ath­lete of short stature and with other mo­bil­ity lim­i­ta­tions.

Five days af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Glacier Peak, she moved to Colorado Springs, site of the U.S. Olympic Train­ing Cen­ter. She lives in a condo and has also taken classes at nearby Pike’s Peak Com­mu­nity Col­lege, study­ing wildlife bi­ol­ogy and his­tory. She hopes to get an un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree and then a master’s de­gree in the com­ing years, though those goals are on hold now for swim­ming.

In her prepa­ra­tions for the Par­a­lympics, Ber­an­baum said she avoided think­ing too much about the pos­si­bil­ity of earn­ing medals in her two events, the 50-me­ter but­ter­fly and the 200 in­di­vid­ual med­ley.

As she ex­plained, “I try not to fo­cus on what could hap­pen. What I try to fo­cus on is what’s hap­pen­ing now and what I can do as an ath­lete to help me get to the medals podium. But I’ve def­i­nitely imag­ined my­self stand­ing up there with the great­est ath­letes in the world, and say­ing that I’m one of the best ath­letes in the world in my event and in my clas­si­fi­ca­tion.”

Speak­ing can­didly, Manley said a medal for Ber­an­baum “would be a sur­prise, though cer­tainly a pleas­ant one.” She is, he went on, “not su­per high in the world rank­ings. … But she’s young, and I’d hope that she would go down there, en­joy the ex­pe­ri­ence, gain some (in­ter­na­tional) ex­pe­ri­ence, per­form well, and then be ex­cited about her fu­ture prospects.”

Re­gard­less of how the com­ing days un­fold, the chance to be a Par­a­lympian is “some­thing I’ve al­ways dreamed about,” Ber­an­baum said. “But if some­one had told me (when she was younger) that I’d be here now, I think I would’ve been in shock.”

Swim­ming, she added, “has been a way for me to show peo­ple that I’m just as much an ath­lete as any­body else. I might be smaller, but I’m an elite-level ath­lete and now I’m a Par­a­lympian.”


Ha­ley Ber­an­baum, of Sno­homish, com­petes in the 100-me­ter breast­stroke at the 2015 Para­pan Amer­i­can Games in Toronto. Ber­an­baum won a sil­ver medal in the event.


Ha­ley Ber­an­baum dis­plays the sil­ver medal she won in the 100-me­ter breast­stroke at the 2015 Para­pan Amer­i­can Games in Toronto.

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