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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane sprinter tries for U.S. Paralympics team a year after discovering her cerebral palsy

Sprinter Taylor Swanson, 31, who found out a year ago she has cerebral palsy, competed and won in the National Paralympics in March and recently came in second at the World Championship Paralympics. Swanson is preparing to try out for the official Paralympics team in July. She runs the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes and trains with ParaSport Spokane.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)

Taylor Swanson has her eyes on Paris this summer, but not for her once-held Olympic dreams in track. She’s set to go to the July 18-20 U.S. Paralympics Trials in Florida.

Swanson, 31, didn’t learn until a year ago she has cerebral palsy – a condition missed in the years after her adoption as a baby from Korea by a Seattle family. For 15 years, she was an “able-bodied” athlete and earned a Central Washington University track scholarship.

Now with a No. 2 world ranking, Swanson is hoping to qualify for Team USA at the Paralympic Games in the 100- and 200-meter races.

A Spokane trip set that course.

“I had come to Spokane for a track meet about a year ago, when we were trying to get me classed as an athlete with foot drop, which is when you can’t lift your foot, and which I have,” said Swanson, who first noticed that foot issue in 2014 after minor knee surgery.

“Teresa Skinner at ParaSport Spokane, one of the coaches here, figured cerebral palsy out; no one else did. It wasn’t until she did that, when we said, ‘That actually makes quite a bit of sense.’ After that, I went to a neurologist in Seattle who confirmed it.”

There were signs growing up, ones she said were overlooked or got separate diagnoses. Swanson was always clumsy and struggled in classes, she said, but by high school, she fell in love with running fast. She also became a sprinter for the Seattle Speed Track Club.

Swanson laughs now about how all the puzzle pieces finally fit. She thinks that 31 years ago, her Korean paperwork and medical records likely weren’t accurate, had missing pieces or details were purposely left out.

“They were trying to get a baby adopted,” she said. “They might not want to mention everything.

“It just took me longer to crawl, walk and talk. I was diagnosed when I was 2 with phonological processing disorder, mainly issues with speech and how you comprehend speech. That should have been like a clue something more was going on, but no one really thought of it,” Swanson continued.

“Once I started school, I had difficulties. It took me longer to learn how to read and do the basics, but I was never held back. I was a quiet kid, and that probably makes a lot of sense. My parents sometimes joke that I figured out how to communicate without saying anything.”

Playing youth soccer, people told her she ran fast, so she tried high school track and found her sport, qualifying for top contests. At her 4A high school in the Seattle area, she made it to state, but came in next to last place in her race. “But I made it to state,” she said.

In 2010, Swanson also went to the Amateur Athletic Union Junior Olympic Games, through Seattle Speed Track.

“For AAUs, I didn’t do well, but I wasn’t last; I was second to last,” she said. “If you think about it, I was competing against the top athletes in the entire country, so I went through regionals just fine, but nationals was a completely different situation for me, and also because of what I didn’t know at the time. It makes sense why I struggled.”

After her 2011 high school graduation, she ran track at CWU for only a year but made conference in both the 60-meter indoor sprint and the 100-meter outdoor. The 60-meter went better, at 8.15 seconds, she said.

“I just did college one year before deciding to go back and train with Seattle Speed, because my track club was all about Olympic development,” Swanson added. “I think it was the year I came back to Seattle, or the following year, I was thinking about the Korean national team – the able-bodied side – for the Olympics. I have dual citizenship, so I could do either.”

But her preference was always Team USA.

Then she injured her meniscus during training and had to have a minor surgery in 2014.

Following surgery, she went to physical therapy, but her physical comeback wasn’t getting better. She continued therapy through 2021, until a therapist finally suggested she consider parasports for athletes with disabilities. She found ParaSport Spokane.

That eventually brought her to Skinner, a trained occupational therapist, who noticed possible cerebral palsy when evaluating Swanson’s competitive level a year ago.

A group of disorders, cerebral palsy affects the body’s ability to move and maintain balance. It’s caused by abnormal brain development or damage to a developing brain, mostly before birth, with mild to serious symptoms. Swanson has hemiplegia cerebral palsy affecting her right side, causing tighter muscles with less control and stability.

Swanson decided to move to Spokane in November to train for the Paralympics.

“There is no real para on the West Side,” she said. “I’ve trained as able-bodied for most of my life.”

At the U.S. Paralympics Track & Field National contest this past March, she won first in the 100- and 200-meter races for her T37 cerebral palsy classification. In May, she came in second in both races for that category at the Para Athletics World Championships in Kobe, Japan.

Her ParaSport Spokane track coach, David Greig, described Swanson’s story as extraordinary.

“Can you imagine, living your life with a disability but not knowing it, not being able to explain why you’re a clumsy kid and nobody put that together?” Greig said.

“It’s interesting sociologically because she wasn’t surrounded in a culture of disability growing up, so people didn’t put limitations on her because they didn’t realize she had a disability, aside from some learning challenges as a youngster.”

He said Swanson is a hard worker in her sport. “She’s No. 2 ranked in the world right now, so she has a high likelihood of making the team going to Paris for the Paralympics.”

To improve her walking and running now, she uses an ankle-foot orthosis, a toe-to-calf brace for right foot movement that she is allowed to wear in para races.

She also employs another tool, which can’t be worn in competition, but it helps in training and warmups: a Bioness electrical stimulation device. She wears the system’s two sections with a Bluetooth connection, one as an upper right thigh wrap and another worn lower on the same leg for the right calf.

The device delivers low-level electrical stimulation to activate nerves and muscles.

“It helps connect the muscles and nerves, so those nerves and muscles actually both fire and are talking to each other,” she said. “I use it before I go out and run. It activates my right side, then I can go out and run fast.”

She trains about six days a week. She also works in office administration for Evergreen Prosthetics and Orthotics.

“I think I have a good shot at making the team,” Swanson said. Her recent best times are the 100-meter at 12.77 seconds and 200-meter at 26.89 seconds.

After years of not knowing what was causing her foot issues, Swanson is thrilled to have tools that work and be striving toward her Paralympic goal.

“Obviously, there are a lot of moving parts of actually training as a para athlete, understanding what the best equipment is to help me run fast,” she said. “We’re still in the experimental phase, and that’s a pretty cool situation to be in. We’re still tweaking things, but it’s working.”