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Special School District of St. Louis County
Making Waves
Standout Swimmer Sets Records

When she began swimming competitively at age 7, the idea of meeting the president just seven years later for her accomplishments as an international competitor must have seemed unimaginable for Colleen Young. Yet, as the youngest member of the United States squad, that was exactly the case following the 2012 London Paralympic Games.

But for Colleen, who is legally blind, being a member of the 2012 U.S. Paralympic Team and meeting national dignitaries was just a steppingstone to further success.

At the top of her list of accolades is the world record she set in the 200-meter breaststroke in her class at the IDM (Internationale Deutsche Meisterschaften, or International German Championships) in Berlin in April. She also earned a silver medal in the women’s 400-meter individual medley for her classification while competing in Germany.

Travel, both domestic and abroad, is a big part of Colleen’s life as a top-level competitor.

“I have been to Greece, England, several cities in Canada, several places in Germany,” she said. “I like communicating with people in different parts of the world.”

For her family, it’s a lot to juggle. In addition to long-distance and overseas travels, her parents also coordinate traveling to practice six days per week—twice a day.

“When Colleen chose to focus on swimming, it had to be her choice,” said her mother Bridget Young. “There is way too much time involved with practice, paperwork, travel, exercise and nutrition to force her to do it.”

Colleen, who is entering her senior year at Lindbergh High School, competes in the S13 classes of events, which are for competitors with low visual acuity.

“I swim and try to follow the large black line on the bottom of the pool and count my strokes so I can know where the end of the lane is,” Colleen said. “If I hit the ropes or walls, it’s okay, I just try to adjust.”

In 2014, Colleen took first place in the 100-meter breaststroke and backstroke at the Pan Pacific Para-Swimming Championships, along with two second-place finishes in the 400-meter freestyle and 200-meter individual medley, and a third-place finish in the 50-meter freestyle. Along with her laundry list of medals, Colleen has broken numerous Paralympic American records in her class.

When it comes to keeping her grounded amid all the success, her mother said typical parent-teen interaction usually does the job.

“We always talk about day-to-day responsibilities and, just like most parents do, get on her about homework, house cleaning, and date deadlines.”

During the rare occasions she does have to relax, Colleen enjoys time with friends and unwinds by reading or watching Netflix.

This summer, her schedule included a trip to Scotland for the Para World Championships, and an invitation to London to participate in the British National Paralympic Day at Olympic Park with four other U.S. athletes. 

Looking ahead, Colleen plans to maintain a good grade-point average in school while selecting a college to attend. She also hopes to qualify for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio next year.

 “I want to be able to get an international gold medal and keep improving my times,” she said. “I really want to be the best I can be.”

Published August 2015

Colleen Young
Colleen Young

(Photo: 2015 Jeremy Kohm)

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Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) is a leader in providing special education services to students with disabilities and also provides a wide range of career and technical education programs.
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