TONTOGANY — Abby Gase has never backed down from anything.
Gase, a senior swimmer at Otsego High School who has been fully paralyzed in her left leg and partially paralyzed in her right leg since the age of 4, never knew what lay ahead of her when she took up swimming.
Since joining the Bowling Green Swim Club when she was 9, Gase has seen massive success as a para swimmer. She has traveled all over the country and the world to compete. In 2019 she competed in the Para Pan-Am Games in Lima, Peru. She won a gold medal and medaled in four of the five events that she competed in.
Gase plans on doing more in the future, starting with the World Para Swimming World Series in Texas in April and competing in the Olympic Trials in Minnesota in June.
While Gase has traveled the world to swim, there is one place that she still hasn’t swam at yet — the Ohio State Championships.
The first ever Para Swimming, as a part of the Ohio State High School Swimming and Diving Championships, will take place Wednesday, and Gase was a big part in making it happen.
“I had heard from my friends, they were in Illinois at the time prepping for their state meet and I thought ‘why doesn’t Ohio have a state meet for adaptive swimmers?’ So I started sending some emails and letters to the OHSAA, but didn’t really hear back. My coach Carolyn (Strunk) started sending emails or she knew someone on the board and she was able to connect with them so we started talking about it,” Gase said.
She remembers feeling left out during her first year of high school swimming at the end of the season.
“My freshman year I swam with my school with the teams that I swim with and I swam at sectionals and that was just kind of like the end of my season. I watched my teammates train throughout the next two weeks … going to districts and state,” Gase said
She didn’t let that early disappointment deter her from competing with everyone else at the state level.
Today’s milestone was a long time coming and Gase is excited to check another experience off her list.
“It is just really exciting that I get the opportunity to swim at state my senior year. Just because we have physical disabilities in the adaptive section doesn’t mean that we’re not competitive athletes like the rest of them and we don’t get the chance to step up to the highest level of the high school meet,” she said.
Strunk, head coach of the Bowling Green club, knows how big a deal this is — not just Gase, but for all of the para swimmers in the state as well.
“It is a big deal. Last year was a bit of a disappointment because we had to go at the district level but this year even though COVID is going on they are going on with the state championship,” Strunk said. “She was a big part in getting that established. And looking at the heat sheet there are multiple swimmers in each event so it should be a really good opportunity for all of them to showcase para swimming and diving at the state meet this year.”
Gase will swim against four other girls in the meet. There will also be five boys at the state meet as well. She will participate in the 100 backstroke and the 50 freestyle.
Competing and winning is just one part of the equation, and for Gase, it’s the least important part. Meeting other swimmers like her and just having the chance to be there is what excites her the most.
“You never realize how similar and different you are from the people you swim against and compete against. Everyone is kind of in the situation in the pool, but outside the pool one person might be involved with things like 4-H or FFA. And one person might be a really big track person. You never know, so it is just exciting to see what everyone else does,” Gase said.
“I’m just excited to compete. I know that we all have different ranges of abilities so I’m not too concerned with times and stuff,” she said. “It’s not always about winning, it is just more about being there and getting the opportunity.”
For Gase, swimming at the state meet will symbolize something deeper than what is at the surface level — something that has been the defining characteristic of her young life.
“It just shows that just because you might have some sort of difference with the ability to swim, if you put the hard work in you can still achieve that high level of competition,” Gase said.