Paige Madden Overcome With Emotion as Tumultuous Journey Leads to Stunning Olympic Spot

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

It seems like a banner journey for Paige Madden. After winning all three of her events at the NCAA Championships and leading Virginia to its first team title, Madden kept the momentum going to Omaha and likely made the Olympic team.

“(This year) has been tremendous for me,” Paige Madden said.

While it seems an almost storybook ending, the journey has also been tumultuous for Madden.

A torn meniscus, a year out of the water, then getting COVID-19 between NCAAs and the Olympic trials is a difficult road to Tokyo.

But somehow, Madden was able to overcome even the most recent of obstacles and get her hand on the wall ahead of everyone except Katie Ledecky in the women’s 400 freestyle final.

Madden was visibly overtaken by the moment in the water as she looked up at the scoreboard and was embraced by Ledecky.

She was the last one out of the water, again taking a moment to soak it all in before exiting the pool.

Then the 22-year-old first-time Olympian walked down toward the warm down pool only to have her Virginia teammates erupt loud enough for the entire CHI Health Center to hear.

The tears continued to flow from there.

“(My teammates) were all crying. I was crying. I was in shock and it was special to enjoy this with them,” Paige Madden said.

Madden thought about her journey — and every roadblock in the way.

“Two years ago, I tore my meniscus eight weeks out from WUGs. So my summer wasn’t my best but in retrospect it was really good for me,” she said of how she handled a quick recovery before a big meet.

That was a huge factor in her performance so far at trials.

Just a couple of months ago, Madden wasn’t even sure if she would be healthy enough to swim, even after winning NCAA titles in the 200 free, 500 free and 1,650 free.

“I have matured a lot in this past year. These last few months ave been a roller coaster,” Madden said. “I actually got COVID right after NCAAs. Honestly, that made me all the more tougher and having my team back me up has been really good.”

It was so tough, she said she still feels lingering affects of the virus, though she has been negative for months.

“Today I still get some chest pain with lingering affects (from COVID),” she said. 
It didn’t show in the 400 free final.

While Ledecky pulled away from the field early, the race for second place was extremely intriguing with several swimmers in the hunt.

Madden and former Cavalier Leah Smith passed Sun Devil’s Emma Nordin in the last 50 meters or so before Madden made her late move to pull away from Smith and finish in 4:04.86.

The roller coaster of a journey then became a roller coaster of emotions as Paige Madden was overcome with tears of joy.
After all she has been through, how could it not mean that much to her?