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Claire Williams ‘13 sets national record

By David Kim

Not often does an athlete place third in an event and simultaneously set a national record, but not every athlete is Claire Williams ’13.

Williams broke the American record for the S9 category in 1000-yard freestyle with a time of 11:57.25. The S9 category is characterized as swimmers with severe weakness in one leg or with very slight coordination problems.

Photograph by Joanna Silverman

“Breaking the record reminds me that I’m part of the [Grinnell swim team], but I’m also part of another community and another group of swimmers that I’m competitive with,” Williams said.

Williams was born with a congenital birth defect called Proximal Femoral Focal Deficiency (PFFD). Her left leg was shorter than her right leg when she was born. At 14 months old, her left leg was amputated.

Despite her disability, Williams has no problems in her daily activities, ranging from climbing stairs, to swimming, to riding horses, her favorite hobby.

“It may seem like a big deal for someone who doesn’t know me, but it’s not,” she said. “It’s part of me.  It’s part of my life. It’s not really a big deal.”

Teammate Morgan Bober ’12 agrees.

“We all know [she has a disability],” Bober said. “But it’s not a big deal at all. One reason we don’t see it as an issue is because she made it that way.”

Williams grew up in Urbana, IL. Her parents, who swam in high school, encouraged her to swim to overcome her fear of bathtubs. Her interest in swimming grew in high school and continued into college.

Her passion for swimming is evident in her work ethic and positive attitude.

“She is a leader by how hard she works, doing the right thing in and out of the pool, motivating her teammates during practice with lots of encouragement,” Head Swim Coach Erin Hurley said. “She [has a] great work ethic and is a team player.”

Williams swam regularly while studying abroad in France last semester. During winter break, although she was not invited to participate in annual winter-break training in Florida, she completed all the workouts on her own.

Williams also maintains positive relationships with her friends.

“She was really nice to me when we first met,” Clare Gunshenan ’14 said. “She was very welcoming and friendly and cheers for everyone.”

Williams embraces that legacy.

“I would like to be remembered as the loud cheerer,” Williams said. “It helps to have people at the end of the lane yell at my face. I would like to be remembered as returning the favor.”

Williams acknowledges team unity as one of her favorite aspects about swimming and being in Grinnell.

“The team is incredibly supportive,” she said. “There are lots of supporters and the camaraderie is great. Anywhere I walk on campus, there are going to be people I know, which is great.”

Williams remembers participating in disability swim meets when she began swimming at the age of 11. She recalls these meets positively because they showed that she was part of the community.

Though she may have briefly overlooked that she belongs to the disabled swimmers’ community, last week’s meet has certainly reminded her that she belonged to that community and has rekindled her interest in Paralympic swimming.

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  • J

    John WilliamsMar 1, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    congrats to you. That is a fantastic time and a wonderful achievement. Keep up the great work.