AUSTIN (KXAN) — “They don’t warn you how heavy it’s going to be,” said Lizzi Smith as she pulled out the silver medal she earned in Tokyo last month.
“It’s my baby,” she said. “I’ve dreamed of this for so long. And after the race it didn’t feel real.”
Lizzi placed second in the 100 Butterfly as a part of the Paralympics this year. While the 25-year old had medaled in previous games, this was her first medal in an individual event.
What does she remember?
“I blacked out most of it,” she laughed. “I remember the last 15 meters being like, this is where you put your head down.”
From a young age, Lizzi wanted a different identity, to stand out from her disability. She immersed herself in competitive swimming; the pool was the first place she could hide her arm.
“I loved making that part of me: Lizzi the swimmer instead of Liz with one hand.”
She began eyeing the Paralympics as a 12-year old. But thoughtful as she is competitive, Lizzi described a journey not without hurdles.
She pointed to the 2016 Paralympic games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. That’s when she missed bronze by one one-hundredth of a second.
Lizzi, always hard on herself, feared being a letdown.
“So scared of, if I come back empty handed, I’m not the winner. I don’t get to identify as that,” she said, wiping away tears.
But five years and a silver medal later, she has a changed mindset and lessons learned. She says she’d be at peace with herself, no matter how she finished.
“You’re not broken. You’re not less than, it’s a celebration of how capable we are,” she said.
Lizzi says the Paralympics is bigger than sport; it’s human rights, it’s representation, it’s progress.
“Paralympics, it’s like, ‘Congratulations, we’re moving,’” she said. “We’re removing all the limitations.”