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Swimming: Waubonsie Valley’s Alyssa Gialamas ready for Paralympic Games

Waubonsie Valley junior AlyssGialamas 17 is one 34 swimmers selected represent U.S. 2012 Paralympic Games London. | Jane Donahue ~

Waubonsie Valley junior Alyssa Gialamas, 17, is one of 34 swimmers selected to represent the U.S. at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. | Jane Donahue ~ For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 11, 2012 6:21AM

Alyssa Gialamas continues to make a splash on the international swimming scene. The 17-year-old Waubonsie Valley High School junior is one of 34 elite swimmers who will represent the U.S. at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London beginning Aug. 29.

“I don’t even think I have words to describe what this means to me,” said Gialamas, who is making her Paralympics debut. “I have made so many sacrifices and overcome injuries to get to this moment. To earn that spot feels incredible.”

Gialamas was born with arthrogryposis, a congenital condition that affects the joints and muscles. She walks using knee-ankle-foot orthosis, braces that stabilize the joints and assist the leg muscles.

But in the pool, she is like any other athlete.

“I love swimming, that fact that it makes me feel free and the same as everyone else,” she said. “Swimming is the one sport that never had to be adapted for me and I really liked that part of it.”

The Naperville swimmer gained the attention of Team USA coaches last November while competing at the 2011 Parapan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. After earning four silver medals and breaking three American records in her classification, she set her sights on London.

This summer has been one of serious training under the guidance of swim coach Dave Graffy. Six days a week the teen spends two hours in the water followed by strength training and cardio workouts on land.

The Waubonsie Valley community has been “a huge support,” allowing her to train at the school’s pool since May.

Graffy, 24, said this is his first time training a Paralympics athlete. It’s been a learning experience for both teacher and student.

“We didn’t know what would work and what wouldn’t, so we learned a little bit from each other,” said the coach. “Look at her times over the past 13 months and you will see that she has come so far. She has dropped time in each of her races. She listens and she adapts.”

At the 2012 Paralympics, Gialamas will compete in the 50-meter, 100-meter and 200-meter freestyle races. She is scheduled to leave Aug. 15 for Germany where the team will train prior to the games. She is excited to get there.

“I have worked really hard this summer and I feel really strong,” Gialamas said. “My goal is to make the finals in each of the races, swim smart and see what happens.”

Expectations for the American team are high. At the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, the U.S. swim team finished first in the official medal count.

“That is a really big motivator for me,” Gialamas said. “I am swimming with superstars — a really great team going into London — and I am proud to be a part of it. It’s like a really big family. I can’t wait.”

The games run from Aug. 29 through Sept. 9. Fans can follow her progress on Facebook and Twitter at @AlyssaGialamas.

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