By: Aria Janello
On Aug. 26, former University of Mary Washington swimmer Joey Peppersack placed seventh in the men’s 100-meter backstroke in the 2021 Summer Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.
In the Summer Paralympic Games, athletes with varying disabilities compete in twenty-two events every four years for their home country.
To secure his spot, Peppersack traveled to the University of Minnesota for the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials, which is the try-out for a committee to put together the best team possible.
Peppersack secured his place on the United States Paralympic men’s swimming team, consisting of 10 total selected men. He left for Tokyo in June after graduating in the spring of 2021 with a degree in business administration.
There are 76 men’s swimming events this year, and Peppersack qualified for the 100-meter backstroke.
On Thursday, Aug. 26, Peppersack’s Paralympic journey began with the 100-meter backstroke heat race to progress to the final competition. There were two heats to qualify for the final, with a total of 11 swimmers competing. Out of the original 11 competing, only eight progressed to the final round.
Peppersack swam the men’s 100-meter backstroke with a time of 1:09.3, the fifth fastest time between both heats, allowing him to qualify for the final.
A few hours later for the final event, Peppersack swam 100 meters in 1:09.45, coming in seventh place.
Although Peppersack did not receive a medal, his dedication to the sport of swimming and the high achievement of making it to the Paralympics has been celebrated by his former collegiate community.
“It’s been even more meaningful to see it in person,” said Justin Anderson, who is the current head swim head coach for UMW and has traveled beside Peppersack to Tokyo, Japan to assist the U.S. Paralympic Swim Team.
Conrad Tan, a sophomore biology major and member of the UMW men’s swim team, highlighted Peppersack’s success.
“It’s always amazing watching one of your teammates achieve success at the highest level of the sport,” said Tan. “Especially when you have been watching the work they have been putting in for years.”
Peppersack has been putting in countless hours of training towards his Paralympic goal for five years after missing out on the 2016 Rio Summer Paralympic Games.
Peppersack is already a decorated competitive swimmer on the international stage. In 2017, he won two gold medals and one silver medal at the World Series Para Swimming event in Berlin, Germany.
Senior communication and digital studies major James Glover is a co-president of UMW club swim. While rooting for Joey on campus, he said that the interest in swimming has increased on campus within the past week.
“Having swimmers in the Paralympics that are UMW alums sheds a huge spotlight onto the swim program and the swimmers themselves,” said Glover. “I am incredibly proud to see UMW swimmers celebrated on a worldwide platform like the Paralympics.”
Swimming alongside Peppersack for the United States is former University of Mary Washington assistant swim coach Zach Shattuck.
Anderson highlighted the importance of providing a supportive environment for swimmers with disabilities.
“I also think it’s great for the Mary Washington community to have this incredible exposure to the Paralympic swimming movement and to see that our team’s efforts toward creating a more inclusive environment for swimmers with disabilities has allowed us to become a place where all swimmers know they have the support, resources, and community behind them to be successful at the highest levels of their sport as well as outside their sport,” said Anderson.