Swimlight: How Ali Truwit Has Overcome Adversity in Quest for Paralympic Glory (Video)

Ali Truwit

Ali Truwit: Triumph Over Adversity and the Quest for Paralympic Glory

Just after graduating from Yale University, Ali Truwit was the victim of a shark attack while on vacation in Turks & Caicos. Doctors and a teammate rushed to save her life and while she lost her foot and part of her leg, she has persevered and become an inspiration while chasing a bid to the Paralympic Games.

Ali Truwit’s story goes beyond the boundaries of traditional athletic narratives, diving deep into the realms of personal adversity, communal support, and the resilience of the human spirit. A former Yale swimmer, her path took an unexpected turn following a shark attack that cost her part of her leg and her foot. Yet, this defining moment became the catalyst for a journey marked not by what was lost but by what was profoundly gained: a renewed sense of purpose, an unbreakable bond with her community, and a determination to surpass every expectation.

As she gears up for the Paralympic Team Trials, Truwit’s saga serves as a beacon of hope and a testament to the strong will that characterizes the epitome of athletic spirit. Her insights into overcoming adversity, defined by the support of her community, offer a unique perspective on what it means to be an athlete and, more importantly, what it means to be human. 

In the aftermath of her attack, the swimming community’s role in Truwit’s recovery became a testament to the power of collective support. The highlight of the support she has received has been from her former Yale teammates, who have offered her strength and encouragement during her most challenging moments. 

“My Yale team has continued to be there, even though I’m no longer swimming for Yale. They’ve checked in with me every day—my coaches, my teammates.” Truwit said. “The first person to train with me and see my leg was a Yale teammate who flew from Canada. They’ve been incredible. Of course, the teammate who saved my life and another one, Hannah, was the one who was in medical school in Miami and helped me through my life-saving surgeries there. So the presence of the team there has been incredible.” 

As Truwit continues her remarkable journey back to competition, she reflects on others who have helped her along the way. Beyond the unconditional support of her teammates, two key figures stand out: her longtime coach and the welcoming Paralympic swimming community. Within this supportive circle, Paralympian Jessica Long has become a particular source of strength for Truwit.

“I think about my coach, who’s coached me since I was 12 years old, and he has been so heroic in helping me just adjust, learn, and train for Paris. I also think that coming into the Paralympic space, I’m so grateful for the Paralympic movement and for Paralympic swimming. It’s truly been so helpful in this first year of recovery to have that space to feel physically strong when, in other ways, I’m not and am working to regain that,” Truwit said. “Jess Long is one of those who’s been so instrumental in my; I feel so lucky to have been introduced to her and to have her support in and out of the water during these few months of training.” 

Truwit’s family and friends have also been the bedrock of her recovery. From the initial shock and the long rehabilitation journey, their presence gave her a sense of normalcy and the strength to face each day with courage and gratitude. In life-altering events, the finish line for recovery can feel like a distant horizon, and Truwit knows the importance of having a solid support network during these times. The continuous outpouring of love and encouragement from her circle of loved ones has been a constant source of motivation, a reminder that she is surrounded by people who believe in her and her journey.

“I think something I work really hard to hone in on is a gratitude mindset and to be grateful for all that I do have rather than focusing on the things that I don’t. My family and friends make that so easy because they’re the greatest support I could have,” Truwit said. “I’m 23 years old, and I just lost my foot and part of my leg in a shark attack, and for the rest of my life, I’m an amputee. To have the support that I have is truly everything that’s carried me through. I’m almost ten months out right now, and I still have people and friends texting me, ‘I’m thinking of you today,’ it’s incredible that ten months out, I still have people who are in my life like that.”

 Truwit’s mental resilience and cultivating a positive mindset are central to her recovery and return to competitive swimming. Facing the reality of her new circumstances, Truwit focused on the possibilities rather than the limitations. Her optimism became her guiding light, a powerful tool that helped her navigate the challenges and setbacks that she had faced. It fueled her determination to heal and return to the water, stronger and more inspired than ever.

“I think now more than ever, the mental component of swimming has been so important for me, and more of a hurdle than it’s ever been either. I mentioned I’ve worked really hard to maintain that positive mindset, and I think that’s huge for me.” Truwit said. “I could sit here and look at my story and say, ‘I lost my foot and part of my leg in a shark attack, and I’m 23, and I’m an amputee for the rest of my life,’ and be devastated about that. I could also look at that story and say, ‘Can I focus on the miracles and the people who saved me and, most importantly, the fact that I’m alive?” Most people die from a shark attack. So, how lucky am I that I’m here? I work really hard to maintain that mindset.” 

The road to the Paralympic Trials is challenging, but for Truwit, the challenge takes on a whole new dimension. Just a year separates her from the life-altering attack and the looming competition dates. It is an ambitious goal, yet Truwit is not one to shy away from a challenge. Her commitment to overcoming new challenges and making new adjustments in her swimming is unmatched, embodying true prowess and resilience. 

“Basically, trials are at the end of June, which will be just over a year out from the attack, the surgeries, and the amputation. So it’s a quick turnaround for me and an ambitious goal,” Truwit said. “I talked about it initially, but it was really about how I can get back in the water without too many flashbacks. So it was just getting me comfortable in the water and overcoming those different fears. That enabled us to start working on some endurance, which I definitely needed because I was a little weak coming out from the attack. We also started moving into work on technique and stroke adjustments that I needed to make to account for my new balance in the bottom half of my body.”

As Truwit embarks on her journey toward the Paralympic Team Trials, her aspirations extend far beyond personal achievement. For her, this competition represents more than just an opportunity to compete; it symbolizes the honor to represent her country on an international stage. However, Truwit’s dreams go beyond individual accolades. In her vision, the true essence of success lies in the collective achievements of her closest friends, a group bound by the pursuit of excellence. 

“I want the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and honor to represent my country and compete. My biggest dream is that I make the Paralympics, and four of my best friends make the Olympics. So Bella Hinley, one of my former Yale teammates, is trying to make it for England. Some childhood best friends and high school best friends whom you might have heard of are Alex and Gretchen Walsh, and Kate Douglass. We’ve talked about how special that would be if all of us made it and how unreal it would be to have all five of us representing the US.” 

In the wake of facing adversity head-on, Truwit found herself thinking about what it means to be an advocate for resilience and perseverance. Encountering a book titled When Bad Things Happen to Good People, gifted by a close friend, marked the beginning of a transformative journey for Truwit. The book’s message spurred her to ponder the deeper meaning behind her trials and tribulations. Through this introspective process, Truwit began to contemplate her role as a survivor and a potential beacon of hope for others navigating similar challenges.

“I think early on in my recovery, one of my friends gave me a book called When Bad Things Happen to Good People, and in the book, one of the messages is it’s so easy to look at a story like mine and for me to sit here and say, ‘Why me, why this happened to me?’ But instead of thinking about it that way, can I think about how I am going to make meaning of what’s happened to me? Sort of like a radical acceptance, it’s happened, how can I make meaning?” Truit said. “For me, the notion that I could help someone else get through their trauma, the notion that I could be an advocate or whatever that looks like, is so exciting and so inspiring for me that I can still be a leader in a space that I’m new to or coming into.”

In offering advice to others navigating life-altering circumstances, Truwit highlights three guiding principles instrumental in her journey: maintaining a gratitude mindset, embracing vulnerability, and the significance of flexible leadership. Her journey illuminates the strength of vulnerability and the dynamic nature of leadership, providing a blueprint for resilience that resonates far beyond competitive swimming.

“I’ve worked really hard to maintain, I call it a gratitude and grace mindset, and it’s focusing on the positive and what you do have and what you can be thankful for and who you can be thankful for. Trying to do as much as you can as opposed to what you’ve lost, and I’ve made it a priority to sort of really think about my story in that way. Of course, it’s easier said than done. So there are those days where it’s too hard and, and having grace with yourself that those days are gonna come too.” said Truwit.

“I think in a similar vein; I guess vulnerability is something I’ve struggled with my whole life. So, I’m not a naturally vulnerable person. I aspire to spread like light and love and happiness and laughter. So, it doesn’t come naturally for me to share my hardships with people who are close to me. I think sport sort of isn’t a natural place to be vulnerable either, right? We’re encouraged to push through when things are hard or when we’re sore or tired. So I was coming from this place where I really wasn’t a naturally vulnerable person, and I actually think that my vulnerabilities these past months have made me a better person and has made me a better athlete.” Truwit said. 

“Leadership is so flexible if we allow it. I think sometimes there’s this strict definition where a leader has to be the one at the front, the one calling the shots, the captain, or the one scoring the points. In reality, sometimes it is that person, but sometimes a leader’s the first to follow; sometimes a leader is the one who’s setting the tone at practice and pushing everyone else to work harder. Sometimes, a leader is the one decorating the locker room the night before the competition. So, for me, I’ve been able to try out each of those roles,” Truwit said. “To think no matter what life throws at me or what I’m going through, I can still be a leader. In that situation, and especially through hardship or trauma or whatever, you’re adjusting to the idea that you could still contribute to the space that you’re in. You can still be a leader. You can still have that impact. So I’d advise people not to count themselves out in that.”

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