Anastasia Pagonis, a 17-year-old from Garden City who is blind, earned a gold medal in a swimming event at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games on Thursday.
The high school senior had set a world record when she qualified for the games in June, then broke that record in the competition to win a gold medal. Her time was 4:54.49 in the women’s 400-meter freestyle, Sports Class S11.
“A WORLD RECORD for Nassau County’s own Anastasia Pagonis – and she’s just getting started,” Nassau County Executive Laura Curran wrote on social media, sharing a photo of her and Pagonis. “Go Anastasia and go Team USA!”
A WORLD RECORD for Nassau County’s own Anastasia Pagonis – and she’s just getting started.🏅🔥
— Laura Curran (@NassauExecutive) August 26, 2021
Pagonis was one of two 17-year-olds to break a para swimming record on Thursday — Gia Pergolini, also representing Team USA, took home a gold medal for her performance in the women’s 100-meter backstroke, Sports Class S13.
Pagonis began losing her eyesight around age 11 and lost all vision by age 14 due to genetic retina disease and autoimmune retinopathy. She has done several public interviews revealing that the new disability brought on months of depression, until her guide dog, Radar, gave her new hope and a new life.
In June, the high school senior was featured on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt and interviewed about Radar.
“He’s changed my life,” she said in the interview. “I didn’t have any freedom or independence before him, and now that I have him, I feel like a totally different person.”
Winning in STYLE 💪
— U.S. Paralympics Swimming (@USParaSwimming) August 26, 2021
The gold medalist is also a TikTok star, where she makes videos educating people about blindness and paralympic sports. She tries to change the narrative about what people with blindness “look like,” she says.