Northern Iowa para swimmer strives for Paris 2024

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (KNWA/KFTA) — Olivia Chambers, a para swimmer at Northern Iowa University and teammate of Cali Prochaska, is striving for Paris 2024.

“You know, you don’t ever remember not being in a pool. It’s just, like, every day after school. That’s where I would go. That’s where I had fun. I was the happiest,” Chambers said.

It didn’t take long for Olivia Chambers to find her talent in the water.

“It’s a challenge, it’s exciting. It’s fun to race yourself at the time, and then it’s fun to race the people next to you,” Chambers said.

At 16 years old, she was finishing up high school at Mount St. Mary’s Academy in Little Rock, AR, and committed to swim at Northern Iowa, when a moment in time changed everything.

“You know, one day I was just like, reading a book, and all of a sudden I just couldn’t see the words anymore. And I was like, Well, that’s a little strange. I went to the eye doctor. They told me I was completely normal and so I just had an accommodative spasm and a couple of drops and they’d get better,” Chambers said.

However, after a year and a half, her eyesight did not return.

“There were several really hard days where, you know, you just think, like, how am I going to do this,” Chambers asked.

How? She kept doing the one thing she loved most, swimming.

Paralympic swimmer trains for Paris 2024 Olympics

“It really all started. Conference her freshman year, she finished her mile, and that was an emotional swim. And her mom was one of our officials at the meeting. The two of us after the race, were like, OK, like, she started asking, ‘how do we get into para,'” UNI Assistant Swimming Coach Ben Colin said.

Olivia’s early successes include 6 medals in the 2023 Para World Championships in England and breaking five American records in her first year of paraswimming.

“Now, with Para swimming, there’s like a little bit of hope where I’m like, OK, something good can come from this,” Chambers said.

As she continues to navigate the mystery of losing her sight, she says she wouldn’t have been able to achieve anything without the people around her.

“They’re always there for me when I need and I know it and know any time I need a ride, any one of my teammates will pick me up and take me where I need to get her,” Chambers said.

“The support system here is awesome, and they’re a really good group. But like her family at home is, that’s the secret ingredient to it. They’re the ones that have kind of behind the scenes helped navigate a lot of the challenges,” Colin said.

Chambers was invited to the NBC National Photo Shoot in Los Angeles and will be at the USOPC Media Summit in New York in April.

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