SALISBURY, N.C. -- At first glance, it's hard to see what makes Tharon Drake so passionate about swimming.

  • Tharon Drake is an assistant swim coach at Catawba College
  • He says he began to lose his vision at age 15
  • He is also training for Tokyo 2020

A two-time Paralympic medal winner and now assistant coach, Drake says swimming means everything.

“It was an avenue for happiness, an avenue for freedom,” Drake said. “The one moment I didn't need a cane, the one moment I didn't need something helping me out. It was just the water and I."

After a swim meet when he was 15, he started losing his vision.  He says he was told by doctors that his brainwaves weren't working properly, leaving him blind for life.

“I had at one moment even asked God why me why me,” says Drake. “But, it’s always come back to I’ve got a plan and a purpose for you it will be OK."

That optimism has kept Drake moving forward. Never allowing the word "can't" to get in his way.

“The first thing is I had to get over the obstacle of impossible, everyone saying it’s impossible, impossible, impossible. Ignore their words of impossible and just go," he said.

As a coach, he may not be able to see the swimmers in the water, but he still can teach them to improve their strokes.

"I’ve learned to pick out on little techniques with my ears,” says Drake. “I can tell these guys are still not having their feet wide apart just looking at you I can tell that and just by what I’m hearing. If the water has a little bit of a lower pitch when they are hitting it they’re more than likely going thumb first and not middle finger first as you want to do for a cleaner catch which makes less noise.”

For swimmers like sophomore Taylor Fair, not only is his coaching inspirational, it's an entirely different method.

“Oh, I definitely think our techniques are definitely going to benefit from all of his help,” Fair said. “It’s unparalleled, the attention we get."

Encouraging the swimmers and those around him that no matter what life hands you, just keep swimming every day.

Drake is the first blind swim coach in the NCAA. He won two silver medals in the 2016 Rio Paralympic games. In addition to coaching, he continues to train for Tokyo 2020.

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