Alyssa Gialamas—Someone You Should Know
For Naperville Paralympian Alyssa Gialamas, swimming isn’t just about winning medals or even representing her country; it’s about feeling free. Gialamas has taken part in two Paralympic games—London in 2012 and most recently the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro this past September.
“I have always loved the water. I feel like I’m not disabled when I’m in the pool,” said Gialamas. “The water is my favorite place.”
Twenty-one-year-old Gialamas was born with arthrogryposis, a disorder that affects the use of her joints and muscles. While growing up she had difficulty with her jaw, knees and feet as a result of the disorder. She walks with the aid of leg braces, and at other times uses a wheelchair. As a Paralympic athlete, Gialamas competes in the S5 heat classification system the Paralympics uses to group athletes of similar abilities together for competitive fairness.
“I started swimming as a form of physical therapy,” she explained. “I joined my local swim team, the White Eagle Warriors, but always swam against people without disabilities. It was only when I started to swim against others with disabilities that I realized what I could do.”
While attending Waubonsie Valley High School Gialamas became a four-time state champion. She began para-swimming in 2008 at the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association in Naperville, before joining the Paralympic National Team in 2013. She currently attends Loyola University, Maryland, where she is studying communications with a specialization in public relations. She headed to the games in Rio de Janeiro holding American Records in the 50m, 100m, 200m, 400m, 1,500m Freestyle and 100m Backstroke.
Throughout her athletic career, Gialamas has always looked to others for inspiration and encouragement. Her hero is Katie Ledecky, who won four gold medals in Rio while breaking four Olympic and two world records.
“She came back after four years and gave a great performance,” said Gialamas. “She’s such a sweet girl and definitely upped her game.”
The London Games
Gialamas said taking part in the London Olympics was a huge honor and dream come true. During that Olympic appearance, Gialamas placed fifth in the 200m freestyle competition.
“I was definitely younger then, just 17. It was my first Olympic experience and it was so overwhelming, but incredible. Four years later, I am stronger and I know what I am getting into,” she said. “It’s such an honor to represent Team USA, it’s so exciting.”
The Rio Games
In Rio, she took part in the 50m Backstroke, 100m, 150m and 200m Freestyle. Although she didn’t bring home any medals this time around, Gialamas couldn’t have been a more enthusiastic participant at the games. “I’m excited to be a cheerleader for Team USA,” Gialamas said. Gialamas’ best event was the 50 meter backstroke, where she finished fifth in the final. “It was one hell of a race and I can honestly say I put everything I had into my 50m backstroke. Coming up short is always hard to swallow but I want to thank everyone who got me here,” she said.
She was joined in Rio by her parents, John and Lisa, her sister Tori and twin brother Matthew. They were all there to support her as they have been doing throughout her swimming career.
“I would not be the athlete I am today without the support system I have around me. To my coaches, teammates, friends, and family who believed in me through the hardest of times and some of the best. Thank you. I am a two-time Paralympian and I am damn proud of that,” said Gialamas.