With each stroke April Kerley’s shoulder burned with pain. Born without her right hand, she often overcompensated on her left side, putting a lot of stress on the rotator cuff. However, this was an important race, and Kerley was determined to finish strong. At age 27, it had been about seven years since the 2000 graduate had swum competitively. Now she found herself at an international competition in Belgium as a member of the U.S. Paralympic Swim Team—a division of the U.S. Olympic Committee—swimming against challengers with similar physical disabilities.
Kerley first heard of the Paralympics in the summer of 2005. “Initially, I thought it was geared toward people in wheelchairs and I didn’t think I would be able to relate or be on the same competition level,” she says.
A competitive swimmer since grade school, Kerley was hesitant to hit the pool again. “I didn’t want to have happen to me what happened in college, which was burnout,” she says. However, it didn’t take long to get back into competitive mode. By October, she attended the first qualifying meet for a Paralympic competition, and things snowballed from there.
After the Belgium competition, Kerley revamped her workouts with the help of Ohio Northern University swim coach Peggy Ewald to alleviate shoulder problems.
Today, Kerley is a Paralympic American, Pan-American and World record holder and world-ranked swimmer on the U.S. Paralympics Swimming Elite Team. She won her first individual World Championships medal—a silver—in the U.S. Paralympics Swimming World Championships in Durban, South Africa.
Now, Kerley is training for the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, China, and building awareness about the program. “The message is that kids and adults, no matter what their circumstance, can be competitive, be healthy and do things to maintain their fitness.”