Wikinews interviews winner of 55 Paralympic medals, Trischa Zorn

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Monday, September 3, 2012

Trischa Zorn
Image: Laura Hale.
Listen to the unedited interview

London, England— Last Friday, Wikinews interviewed Trischa Zorn, 55-time medal-winner. The U.S. Paralympic swimmer's haul includes 41 golds.

Zorn discussed a variety of issues, including frustration with the classification system that has disadvantaged some United States swimmers because of what she sees as its subjective nature. She also talked about the increased visibility of the Games, how things have changed from when she started in 1980 to the current 2012 Summer Paralympics. Zorn discussed how sponsorship has evolved from her early time participating, and issues with the Paralympics inside the United States at the present.

This year Zorn was inducted into the International Paralympic Hall of Fame at a ceremony in London. Having last competed in the 2004 Summer Paralympics, if she was swimming today, she would be classified as an S12 swimmer. She currently works for the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, helping returning soldiers adjust to life as civilians.

Interview transcript

Wikinews waves Left.pngLaura HaleWikinews waves Right.png We do Wikinews, which is related to Wikipedia ... And, your article on Wikipedia sucks.
Trischa Zorn: Right
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png The sources don't agree on how many [Paralympic] medals you won. So how many medals have you won?
TZ: 55 medals. 41 gold, nine silver and five bronze.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png More gold medals than the next nearest total medal winner.
TZ: Correct
Wikinews waves Left.pngHawkeye7Wikinews waves Right.png In fact, the next two, three, maybe four, put together.
TZ: Correct
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png You started [Paralympic] swimming in 1980.
TZ: My first games was in 1980, and my last games was in 2004 in Athens.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png 2004?
TZ: Yes. Eight years ago.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png And you medalled there?
TZ: I got a bronze. I was only swimming in two events.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png And you remember all 55?
TZ: I know what events I swam. Relays and stuff. The discrepancy is because early on they weren't really keeping track of the events. Like my first games in 1980, I won seven medals, and they only recorded five. In 1984, because the games were in New York, and because of the boycott, from when we boycotted in 1980, not a lot of European countries came over. So there wasn't a lot of statistic keeping.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png We have found the IPC database had a lot of problems on the Australian side. We have been correcting that.
TZ: I have a whole list of all the events.What ones I won. A British writer was writing a book and wanted to include me, so I collated all my results and sent it to her.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png When you started in 1980, did they have the three categories for blind swimming?
TZ: They had the three categories, but they weren't like S categories now. There was B1 for blind, B2 and B3. I was in the middle, a B2. The equivalent to S12 now.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Has classification on the blind sports side changed much since you started?
TZ: They would like it to be in the regular classification S1 to S10. They would like everybody to be all one and use a points system. But I'm not a big fan of the points system, and I'm not a big fan of the classification procedure.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Blind sports is the only medically based classification left. The rest are all functionality based.
TZ: Correct
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png They are moving towards an evidence based system, but I'm not sure what that is.
TZ: Unfortunately, the classifications are very subjective. And a lot of the classifications, they don't go by actual evidence of medical documentation, it's what you can do in the water. So, for example, we have one of our athletes, Mallory Weggemann, that was an S7. She had multiple world records as an S7 and two days before she was supposed to comes here the IPC says: "We want to reclassify you. We want to do your classification all over" So she came here and they put her through a dry land regimen of classification. Then they said "let's get you in the water. We'll classify you there." Then they said: "Oh no! You're an S8!" Even though she had medical documentation to say that she was a T10 paraplegic with no function in her legs.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Did classification ever effect you?
TZ: Not with me, but there has been problems with the S13. It's supposed to be best corrected. There have been people that I swam against in the past that two years later were disqualified. Their vision, now they found out, was too good. It's very subjective. There needs to be a test where they can see what you can see. Because, as an athlete, you go in and somebody says: "Can you see this?" or "Can you read that?"
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png You're involved with the veterans? On the sports side?
TZ: I work for the Department of Veterans' Affairs.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png How long have you worked for them?
TZ: I have worked for them for a year now. I actually see some of the veterans like Brad that have come back lately, and how they have come through Walter Reed. I work more on the business side of it. But its still nice to see that they are being welcomed back, being provided opportunities for sports. Things that they thought that they would never be able to do.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png One of the criticisms of the US Paralympic Committee, and I don't want to get you in trouble, is that the reason that the US is having problems right now with funding support is that they have been focused on veterans, and ignoring other people with disabilities. Would you care to comment on that?
TZ: Well I think that anything in the US that deals with veterans, the US is very passionate about, and sports, unfortunately, amateur sports, have become a business. And any kind of funding through the Department of Defense, going for veterans and whatever programs they are involved in is very important. But, as I've always said, funds always end up drying up. They're not always going to be there, so you can't depend strictly on that. Therefore, you need to have a well-rounded funding base, not just for veterans, for all athletes.
Wikinews waves Left.pngHawkeye7Wikinews waves Right.png Where does funding normally come from in the United States?
Wikinews waves Left.pngLaura HaleWikinews waves Right.png Hawkeye7's an Australian, so his model is that the government pays for sport.
TZ: It's funny, I look and I see what the Paralympic athletes get now, and what we even got in '08 compared to when I first came. We had to pay to go to the Paralympics. We had to pay for our uniforms. It was only from Sydney that we didn't have to pay anything, and we were provided uniforms. So each games has built on certain things. So, for example, 1988 was the first time that we had the same venues as the Olympics. '92 was the first time that we were able to actually hear our national anthem, because before you didn't, you just heard a games recording. So then in '96 obviously because it was in the US, I think they thought that that was going to bring more awareness, and it did to an extent; but, once it was gone it kind of dwindled away. And then, in 2000 in Sydney, things had become … we were the first - there were four of us - we were able to train at an Olympic training centre. Not with the team, but we were able to use the facilities at the Olympic training centre full-time. But now they have a full time resident program. They are not training alongside Olympic athletes, but at least they are funded by the Olympic Committee. They get to train there, they get to live there. So things have changed. And then people argue about prize money, and sponsorship. It's different.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Do you think they should be sponsored? In Australia, Evan O'Hanlon, he's an athlete, he has cerebral palsy, her covers his shoes with tape, because he feels that he is advertising for whoever makes his shoes, and he feels that he should get sponsorship. Do you think that we have reached the point with disability sports on the world stage where the elite athletes should be sponsored?
TZ: Well I think that there are certain talented athletes in the US that are now getting the global sponsors such as Jessica Long being a Visa athlete and having opportunities with Coke. And Rudy Garcia-Tolson with BP. And those big companies are jumpingon board and seeing the opportunities not just from a marketing standpoint, but you are allowing the young athletes to see that and touch it, and before it wasn't. I mean you are basically competing because you love the sport. Now it's just like Olympic athletes. They know what the possibilities of an outcome is going to be. Now, granted, Paralympic athletes don't get $50,000 for a gold medal, or $10,000 for a bronze. We'd be lucky if we get $5,000 or $10,000.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Do you think that all 55 of your Paralympic medals are equivalent to Olympic medals?
TZ: They are equivalent in respect that I did the same training as any Olympic athlete. I trained alongside able bodied athletes in the club setting where I trained, and a college setting.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Which clubs and which colleges was that?
TZ: Actually, when I was younger I swam for San Diego Matadors down in California, and in college at the University of Nebraska, and then when I moved to Indiana I was training there with a coach it was with the Riviera Swim Club.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png You've been all over.
TZ: I've been going east as I've left my home state of California.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Because of sport?
TZ: Because of coaching. My club coach left the club and went to the college level. So when I went to college he continued coaching.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Did you get a scholarship?
TZ: I was on a full athletic scholarship. I was the first physically disabled athlete to get a full Division One scholarship.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png That is so cool.
TZ: I guess they say, they are not as equal, but medals are medals, and whatever your heart is and whatever you think of it, that is what it means.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png In Australia, my impression is that they do view them as exactly the same, whereas in America, some people do not even know that the Paralympics are on.
TZ: Yes. And unfortunately it's a stereotypical society. In the US we don't typically stereotype Paralympic athletes as the Australians or the Europeans do, and especially if you don't look disabled. If you put me next to Jessica Long, she's an incredible athlete but her story is going to be more desirable, because her disability is more noticeable. Don't do that for me. But it's to the extent where you are losing the focus of the athletics.
Wikinews waves Left.pngLaura HaleWikinews waves Right.png Is there anything else we should know in terms of the history of the Paralympics?
Wikinews waves Left.pngHawkeye7Wikinews waves Right.png Particularly about yourself.
Wikinews waves Left.pngLaura HaleWikinews waves Right.png Are you a shy and retiring individual?
TZ: I am. And I think that's part of it. I'm not very good with bragging.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png At selling yourself?
TZ: At selling myself. And I feel that my medals and my performance in the water speaks for itself.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png You were out there tonight presenting a medal.
TZ: And it was an honour to be on that side of it for these games. In 2008, I was honoured to be part of the Presidential delegation. I am involved with the US Olympic Committee as an athlete adviser on the rules and regulations and the rights of athletes. That's basically where I want to be right now. I want to be an advocate for athletes.
Wikinews waves Left.pngHawkeye7Wikinews waves Right.png We were at water polo match in Canberra, watching the Australian Olympic water polo team. And Ellie Cole walked in and they announced: "Ladies and gentlemen, this is Ellie Cole!" These Olympians applauded Ellie Cole.
Wikinews waves Left.pngLaura HaleWikinews waves Right.png They do that at the Canberra Capitals games. They introduced Ellie Cole and her dad. It's a completely different perspective. People outside the United States ask: "Why don't you acknowledge them? What is wrong with the US?"
Wikinews waves Left.pngHawkeye7Wikinews waves Right.png Every ad break [in Australia] there's a Paralympian
Wikinews waves Left.pngLaura HaleWikinews waves Right.png Grace Bowman! You haven't done any commercials have you?
TZ: No to the extent that some athletes do, but for Visa and Coke. For Atlanta we did some commercials for Coke, it's headquarters is in Atlanta. I've done Hartford Insurance, but not globally.
Wikinews waves Left.pngLaura HaleWikinews waves Right.png Thank you.
Wikinews waves Left.pngHawkeye7Wikinews waves Right.png Thank you.


Sources

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