Despite losing vision, UNI’s Chambers still crossing the finish line first

Published: Jan. 15, 2023 at 7:32 PM CST
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CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (KCRG) - Northern Iowa’s Olivia Chambers has been swimming for 15 years.

“I love getting up and racing everybody else,” she said. “Just being in the water makes me happy.”

However, the last few, may have been the most challenging. At 16 years old, Chambers was declared legally blind.

“It was a lot of learning curves, but in the water, I mainly had to learn how to count my strokes, so I knew when to flip so I wouldn’t hit the wall. Then in school, I got a bunch of accommodations to help me, like large print and extra time,” she explained.

The news was life altering for Chambers, but she wasn’t ready to give up swimming just yet. Instead, now as a sophomore, the Arkansas native seems to be settling in at UNI. Last month, she became the first Panther para swimming national champion.

“That was a really special moment. There’s not a lot of kids that can turn one of the most challenging things in their life into a positive,” UNI swimming and diving head coach Nick Lakin said.

“I never thought my life would take this turn, but it’s really exciting to have something good come out of losing my vision,” Chambers said.

She finished first in the 400-meter freestyle and 200-meter individual medley beating out a three time Paralympic champion. Chambers was also named the swimmer of the meet.

“It was really crazy because I never really imagined swimming up with the big names of para swimming, so it was really exciting and is opening many doors for me,” she said.

Having lost her sight just over three years ago, Chambers is still making adjustments.

“Moving to new pools is hard because the walls, the lighting - everything kind of changes. While it’s the same length, the lighting can really mess with what it looks like through my eyes,” she explained.

She continues to get faster. Her next goal is to dip her toes into representing Team USA on and international stage.

“ It is a goal to go to the Paralympics in 2024, but we’ll see what the future holds,” Chambers said.

Outside of the water, her coach says she’s finally letting her full personality shine and that confidence will only help her pursuit in the pool.

“If she continues to do what she’s doing, we don’t see any limits to what she can accomplish,” Lakin said.