By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
Trischa Zorn-Hudson is one of the most successful athletes in history. She won 55 medals over 7 Paralympics. The California native and University of Nebraska swimmer was recently inducted into the International Paralympic Hall of Fame this summer in London. Today we catch up with Trischa in Part Two of our interview, hear how she thinks the classification system can be subjective, how that system can be improved, and her advice for aspiring swimmers out there… You can read Part One here.
What classification were you when you competed?
B2 and S12. S11 are those who are totally blind. S12 is light perception to a visual of 20/1200. S13 is the highest visual class and is considered legally blind, which is 20/200.
I read an interview that you thought the classification system was pretty subjective. Can you go through that process for people who may not be familiar how it works?
My belief is that it’s subjective. My experience is, people think that if you have a visual number, you should be expected to see this. But you’re not looking through my eyes. Nor is every environment similar. My visual can change from an indoor setting to an outdoor setting. If you choose to classify me inside, where the lighting is not very good, and then you put me in a pool that is dark, I might be one visual classification, compared to when I completely change that environment. I know we had a lot of classification issues in London. I think it’s a lot more technical when you’re talking about the other functional classifications, such as wheelchair athletes with spinal chord athletes. Vision is what it is. Unfortunately, I’ve been competing against people who go in there and say “Nope, can’t see it, can’t see it,” when they do the classification tests. Then they go in and have 20/20 vision.
If you’ve been in the Paralympics family, certain countries are pretty well known for having certain issues like that, just because of the standards like that. Standards are different. They’re probably not as strict. We’ve had athletes who have gone over to the games and are disqualified.
How could you improve the system?
The international Paralympics Committee has made great strides. They’ve done a lot of things to correct the issues. Every country has what they call “classifiers.” Every classifier should be a medically licensed doctor in that particular area. So they understand the condition. Individuals who classify people [currently] have no medical background. They take a class or take things online, and they’re a classifier. To me, that doesn’t do justice to those people. They don’t understand the issues people are dealing with.
That happens in the US?
The US has a classifier without a medical background. I think that’s pretty standard.
So you’ve had instances where you’ve competed against “visually impaired” swimmers who were not actually that visually impaired?
When you’re around swimmers, you observe them. You know their quirks. When you can see someone who touches the wall, and they’re supposed to be visually impaired, then they look across the pool and see the scoreboard, that’s concerning. There was a case of someone who was supposed to be totally blind, and they saw them walking from the dorm to the café by themselves. How can you do that unassisted without a cane? We had three athletes in London that were reclassified. One was told at first you cannot even swim, and she was already over in London. They had to get more documentation by her doctor to get faxed over there. To me, that’s not a time or a place where you do that. When you’re over there, and you’re preparing, it shouldn’t be that way. That’s the last thing you want to be dealing with.
What is your take on the exposure of Paralympics in the US, in terms of the media coverage? What would you like to see improved?
When I first started, there was no TV coverage at all. It was very limited coverage. It was limited newspaper coverage. It just started coming around in 2000. They started doing coverage and collages, and this is what’s happening on this day. Gradually, it’s increased, but still not to what it should be compared to other countries. In London, they covered it all over. Europe, every single day, almost every single event was on TV. It’s a testament to how they expose and see their Paralympic athletes, pre-games, in their advertising and marketing. I talked to a lot of people, a lot of people think the Paralympics should be first, before the Olympics. Just because of the environment it is. The platform that it provides for people. I think because of the expense of the Games, and the length of it, money is a big thing. The big TV stations, “We’ve already spent 3 weeks over there.” To spend 10 more days is a lot. They can’t do that.
What’s the one piece of advice you have for athletes, aspiring Olympians, Paralympians, or anyone with an athletic goal?
I know it sounds cliché, but I think it’s important that you’re doing the sport for yourself. That you’re doing it because you love the sport and it’s not something someone else wants you to do. Especially getting into the sport. You need to have your own goals and set your own goals. That’s your desire. Not do it because your parents want you to do it. Or not something you see your peers doing it and think its cool. You truly have to love the sport of swimming. It’s a lot of time commitment. Unfortunately, I see it in kids today. I coach at a high school, you see kids, there’s a lot more burnout. There’s a lot more pressures and activities available to kids now rather than when I was young. There are pressures of, “Man, should I do it because it looks good on my college application? Or am I doing it because I love the sport?”
How was being inducted into the International Paralympic Hall of Fame?
It was really nice. It was two female athletes, and one male, and one coach. So a total of five. This was the second class of inductees. I feel that it was quite an honor to be honored by your peers, and not just domestically, but internationally too.
Do you still swim?
I do, just for health and leisure. Not as much as I’d like to. Swimming is a unique sport. You’re always going to have a lifetime friends, as much time as you spend around each other. With coaching, it helps keep me connected. I don’t think I’ll ever be away from it, I’ll be near it in some capacity. Now I sit on the athlete advisory council on the US. Olympic committee. After my term is up, I’ll be involved with the Paralympic Association.
What has been your favorite memory, if you could select one, of the sport?
Just the camaraderie when you go to a Games and being able to meet different people across the world, and still be able to have those friendships.