After Extra Year, Sophia Herzog Ready to Enjoy Last Paralympics

Photo Courtesy: Team USA

After Extra Year, Sophia Herzog Ready to Enjoy Last Paralympics

Sophia Herzog’s plan didn’t involve the Arkansas River. It didn’t involve a pandemic puppy or an extra year of putting her post-swimming career on hold.

But there the 2016 Paralympic silver medalist was in the spring of 2020 anyway. She’d just finished her degree in business communications in the fall of 2019, studying remotely with DeVry University from her home in Colorado. She was ready for one more go at the Paralympics, then the process of starting a career at age 23.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed all that. But a year later, Herzog is ready for her final run at the Paralympics in Tokyo, a journey with some unfinished business and an imperative, given all that the last year has been, to enjoy the journey.

Sophia Herzog Headshot (1)

Sophia Herzog

Herzog labored over the decision to soldier on. She’d won a silver medal in the S6 100 breaststroke in Rio to go with sixth place in the 200 individual medley. She won a pair of golds at the 2017 World Championships and finaled in three events, the highest finish a fourth place in the 100 breast, at Worlds in 2019.

The 2020 Tokyo Paralympics was going to be Herzog’s final Games. But whether or not she’d stick it out to 2021 took time to decide.

“I gave myself a little bit of time to figure out if I was going to go for this extra year,” Herzog said in July, after Paralympic Trials. “It got a little uncomfortable when Tokyo’s population didn’t want to have the Games, so there was still talks of it not happening. If they were going to postpone it again, if this whole year was going to be that I put off this retirement for nothing, so just mentally preparing myself to go for another year was hard.”

The plan for 2020 had been to devote the whole year to the Paralympics – a singular, post-graduate focus, then time to revel in whatever she accomplished in Tokyo before finding the next step. Herzog is approaching 2021 the same way, though the suspended animation of her career is uncomfortable at times. In free moments during the spring of 2020, for instance, when she could have been applying for jobs, she had to stop herself, since her summer was a little too booked for job interviews.

Instead, she’s resolved to take the year for herself, with time after Tokyo to spend with her partner, Nick, and their puppy, Odie.

Odie played a role in Herzog’s fitness routine. With pools shut down in the spring of 2020, the ability to take the rambunctious black lab, adopted in June 2020, out on long walks or bike rides was valuable cross training, mentally and physically.


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Herzog felt pretty lucky in her training availability. A native of Fairplay, Colorado, and graduate of South Park High School (yes, that South Park), she swam at a pool in Salida, where she now lives, about an hour from her hometown. Training time didn’t return to consistent hours until the fall of 2020, but since then, it has been pretty steady, enough that Herzog didn’t resort to what many other Paralympians have in relocating to the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs to find stable pool time.

She augmented that work where she could with long hikes and cycling, to keep her mind fresh and occupied as much as anything during 2020.

“It’s just the mental strength mostly, and also just being so grateful because there’s so many people that I didn’t realize needed to keep the pool open,” she said. “Being grateful now for the opportunity to swim every single day, that is definitely eye-opening.”

Herzog has high hopes for her Paralympics. Through all of the travails of 2020 and 2021, she’s maintained autonomy over her journey. And she’s ready to enjoy the culmination of those years of hard work in Tokyo.

“This is going to be my last Games, and it’s not something I can come back to in 10 years,” she said. “It’s not a profession I can revisit, so just enjoying it and soaking it all in and being proud of my performances. … The veterans in Rio kept saying to journal through the Games and I kind of blew it off. But this time I’m definitely going to because in 20 years, I’d love to open that book and see little things that I’ll forget about in the moment and remember that then.”