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SwimTopia Presents: Summer Para Swim Star Kate Alexander

A competitor and Junior Coach for the Western Oaks Dolphins summer swim team in Austin, Texas, 13-year-old swimmer Kate Alexander first began swimming at age 8. She was quick to fall in love with the sport, enjoying the hard work and the enduring friendships she built on her team. Despite eventually also joining a year-round team to build endurance and strengthen stroke technique, Kate attributes the zany cheers, fun costumes, innovative practices, and camaraderie of the Dolphins to cementing her lifelong passion for swimming.

In 2021, Kate’s team reopened after a hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic. Aged 11 at the time, Kate had recently been diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth, a neurological condition that causes muscle loss and weakness in her legs and hands. As a result, Kate found herself tiring more easily than her peers both in- and outside the pool and no longer able to do what USA swimming defines as a “legal” breaststroke kick.Though certainly a hurdle not shared by the friends surrounding her, this diagnosis did not quash Kate’s fervor for her sport and team.

Now 13 and more excited about swimming than ever, Kate’s journey has only just begun. Read on below to learn about Kate’s motivational relationship with swimming as well as her foray into Para athletics. Her voice is that of a bright young lady, intent to share her experience and inspire others as well as reach her potential no matter the challenges.

Pictured from left to right: Kate with friends Cassidy Butler, Willow Ruxer, and Gracie Wilson. Photo credit: Dana Chang.

Q: How did you initially get into swimming?

A: When I was 7 years old, I went to watch my cousin at a neighborhood swim meet and immediately fell in love with the sport. The next summer, I participated in our neighborhood summer swim team and loved it. After the season was over, I joined a year-round club team.  I still swim on the Western Oaks Dolphins team every summer and with my club team the rest of the year. 

Q: When did you realize you could compete with accommodations?

A: Once our summer team started again after Covid, Mike McDonald (Meet Director for the Dolphins) asked my mom why I had stopped swimming the 100 IM. She told him about my recent diagnosis and mentioned that I couldn’t do a legal breaststroke kick any longer. Mr. McDonald told me I could still swim the IM and he would make sure I didn’t get DQed for my kick. I didn’t even know that was possible! I was super excited to swim the IM again, because I like all the strokes.

After my summer season ended, I went back to my club team and one of the coaches, Chase Thompson, suggested I get on the Paralympic track. He connected me with Atlas Adaptive Sports and I learned about all the accommodations I could receive at Para swim meets, including help standing on the block if my balance is off. 

Q: What are your goals for your swimming career?

A: Right now, my goal is to attend as many Para swimming meets as possible. There aren’t that many meets, so we usually have to travel to different states to compete. On July 10th – 11th, I am competing at The Hartford Nationals in Alabama. I qualified for the maximum number of events: 4 short-course and 3 long-course. I am really excited and hope I win some medals! In the future, I want to make the USA National Team. 

Q: What are your biggest challenges on a daily basis (both in- and outside the pool)?

A: One of my biggest swimming challenges is not being able to do a legal breaststroke kick. I lost control of the muscles in my right foot, so I can’t flex my foot when kicking. I also struggle with balancing on the block before diving in to race. If starters say “Stand” when I am about to start a race, I always freak out a little bit because I don’t want to fall in the water and get disqualified!  Another aspect of my disease is muscle weakness. My legs can give out at times and I get tired much faster than able-bodied swimmers.

Outside of the pool, I struggle to walk. I wear Ankle Foot Orthotics (AFO), braces, to help me walk around and stay balanced. However, even with the braces, I get tired very easily. This means I can’t do a lot of things my friends do, like attend my 8th grade class trip since we would be on our feet the entire time. I can’t just hang out at the mall or amusement parks. I do feel sad that these things are not available to me, but I know it’s best not to be walking excessively. 

Q: How do you think your challenges are similar or different to those of your peers?

A: I don’t think people realize how hard I work to just get around everyday. I need to think about so many more things than my peers. Just to hang out with friends, I have to make sure I’m wearing the right shoes, I have my disabled parking pass with me (in case someone else’s parents are driving), and I don’t let my legs get too tired (so I don’t trip and fall).  

Regardless, I am still just a teenager and I want to have fun like all my friends do. I have some great friends who understand my challenges and make sure we hang out where I can sit and be comfortable. 

Another difference that relates to swimming is that I don’t have as many opportunities for swimming as my peers. I tried out for my high school swim team (I will be a freshman in the fall) and I didn’t make it. I knew I would have more difficulties than athletes with two working legs, but I wanted to try anyway. A lot of my friends are on the team, though, and I will continue to support them while I train with my club team and amazing coach Greg Davis at Lifetime. 

Q: I heard you’ve had a chance to connect with paralympians- what has that experience been like?

A: About a year ago, I started an Instagram page to share my Para swim journey. Taylor Winnet was one of the first people to follow me and reach out. She is on the USA National Team and we were able to meet at the Cincinnati Para Swim Open in May this year. Just through Instagram, I have connected with so many Para swimmers on the National Team. Para athletes are all so supportive of each other and I appreciate the community we have on social media. 

I also practice with Lindsay Grogan at Atlas Adaptive Sports. She and Kyle Rea (both coaches for Nitro Swimming) hold Sunday practices for swimmers on the Paralympic track. Lindsay was a Paralympic swimmer and she helps us determine which meets to attend and what my goals should be. 

Q: Who is your favorite Para athlete and why?

A: A Para athlete I follow and am inspired by is Jamal Hill. He has the same condition as me and helps younger kids learn to swim through his non-profit organization Swim Uphill. He does so much for this world and swims super fast too! I admire him because he follows his heart and his passions, even outside of his sport. I want to continue swimming competitively as I get older, but I also want to help younger generations. 

Q. Tell us why your summer swim team is important to you? What has it been like competing with this team?

A: Summer team is the place where I learned to really swim! I have been on the Western Oaks Dolphins since I was 8. That was the start of my love for swimming. I have also made a lot of amazing friendships and bonds with people on the team. Many of us do not go to the same school, but we get to hang out at the pool every single day over the summer. My group of friends on the Dolphins all understand my condition and give me all their support. We all practice hard, but we have lots of fun too. 

Now that I’m 13, I am able to be a Junior Coach! I enjoy helping out with little kids and getting to know them. It’s such an amazing feeling when I have been working with a young kid and they finally understand a swimming concept we’ve been practicing. I hope to continue coaching in future years.

Kate had a fantastic showing at the Hartford Nationals July 10-11th! Competing in the 17 & under age bracket for swimmers in the S9 Para category (and, therefore against athletes much older than her), Kate’s results were:

Short Course: 

100 IM: 1st  Place

50 Free: 3rd Place

50 Back: 3rd Place

Long Course: 

200 IM: 2nd Place

100 Free: 3rd place

100 Back: 3rd Place

If you would like to learn more about Kate’s journey in the Para swimming world, follow her at and share with others. From all of us at SwimTopia: we’re rooting for you Kate and can’t wait to see what else you accomplish!