Australian para swimmer Alexa Leary was simply unmatched in the women’s S9* 100 m freestyle at the Para Swimming World Championships in Manchester, earning herself the victory and the gold medal. Only two years ago, Leary barely survived a horrifying bike accident that kept her in the hospital for 111 days and left her with a traumatic brain injury (TBI). She wasn’t expected to talk or walk again but, defying all the odds, Leary made an incredible recovery and her performance on the world stage is nothing short of incredible.
Leary made her mark in Australian swimming when she claimed the bronze medal at the national para swimming championships in the 50 m backstroke a mere nine months after her accident. Leary had been a triathlete and swimming was a key part of her physical rehabilitation; but rehab turned into training and training turned into a Paralympic dream. With her medal-worthy performance at the national level, Leary earned a spot on the Australian para swimming development team and went on to qualify to compete in Manchester.
“My goal has always been to bring a medal home from the Para World Titles or to even just get a medal in other professional swimming events,” Leary says.
Leary won her qualifying heat in the morning with a championship record time of 1:00.20. As the top seed going into the final, Leary admits she was feeling stressed and nervous. None of that got in the way of her performance, however, and Leary dominated the race to win with a time of 1:00.24, a massive 2.33 seconds ahead of second place.
“When I was in the water I honestly just kept so focused: act like a weapon to destroy the rest and don’t stop!”
Seeing her name at the top of the results board was another experience all together. “I was honestly amazed and just couldn’t believe it,” she says. “It took me a while to realize that I had actually won gold.”
Not only did Leary walk away with the world title in the 100 m but she also earned the silver medal in the women’s S9 50 m freestyle with a time of 28.03. With her two medals, Leary says she is excited for the upcoming Paralympics next year in Paris and is “most definitely” aiming for a medal.
“It was amazing and inspiring to see so many para athletes get in the water and swim. Honestly, it brought tears to my eyes of how inspiring it really was!”
“Two years ago my life was almost taken from me. I have come so far. I have pushed the limits, challenged myself daily, keeping myself strong, motivated and positive,” Leary wrote on Instagram.
“It honestly inspires me of how far I have come and how much further I can go!”
For full results: https://www.paralympic.org/manchester-2023/schedule-and-results
*S9 is for swimmers with coordination affected at a low level in the arms and legs, high degree of weakness in one leg, or the absence of limbs.