Succeed student Maggie Scherder wins gold at World Down Syndrome Swimming & Artistic Championships
Maggie Scherder is no stranger to competing, and winning, at a high level. As a longtime competitive swimmer, Scherder has graced medal stands across the country and the globe.
In 2018, she represented the United States at the 9th World Down Syndrome Swimming & Artistic Championships in Truro, Canada, earning a bronze in the 100-meter backstroke. In 2019, she represented the U.S. again at the 5th Open European DSISO Swimming Championships in Sardinia, Italy, where she helped the national team to a third-place finish.
Despite her previous accomplishments, her most recent success at the 10th World Down Syndrome Swimming & Artistic Championships in Albufeira, Portugal, left her excited but a bit tongue-tied.
“It feels really great,” she said. “It feels really good to be the first woman from the USA to get a gold medal – and on the first day. I feel like this is really big. I’m just speechless about it, honestly.”
Not only was Scherder the first American woman to win gold at the championships for her efforts in the 50-meter backstroke, she also won silver in the 100-meter backstroke, bronze in the 200-meter backstroke and gold as part of the 4×50 medley relay team. Her strong showing helped push the U.S. to a fourth-place finish in a field of 23 countries.
Scherder, who has Down syndrome and is a second-year student in the Succeed Program at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, has balanced her impressive swimming career with her studies and a job as a swim instructor at the university’s Recreation and Wellness Center.
At UMSL, she’s found a sense of independence through Succeed – a postsecondary program in the College of Education designed to teach students with intellectual and developmental disabilities academic, job and life skills – while pursuing her passion and encouraging inclusion in athletics.
Growing up in a family of athletes, Scherder was drawn to sports from a young age. Her father played basketball, and her brother and sister competed in a variety of sports including basketball, swimming, track and field and volleyball.
Scherder was equally involved, participating in dance and soccer, but it was swimming with her sister at the River City Athletic Club in Peoria, Illinois, that really captured her interest. After learning how to dive off the blocks in 2011, she was hooked.
“I knew I wanted to be a swimmer someday,” Scherder recalled.
Over the past decade, she’s worked hard to achieve that goal.
As her career progressed, Scherder began to train more seriously and enter high-level meets. It’s taken focus and dedication, but that hard work has only energized her.
“I love the feeling of competition,” she said. “That’s what makes me swim better, pushing people to make them the best. I just love the feeling of it.”
Swimming has opened many doors for Scherder and led to exciting opportunities such as swimming in the Jimi Flowers Classic and participating in the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee swim clinic at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, earlier this year.
The most recent was the 10th World Down Syndrome Swimming & Artistic Championships, which were held from Oct. 15 through Oct. 23. The weeklong event was organized by the Down Syndrome International Swimming Organisation and the National Swimming Federation of Portugal and drew 163 swimmers and 25 artistic swimmers from 23 countries.
Scherder prepared extensively for her races in Portugal, employing techniques like parachute resistance training.
“You have to be training, getting into race mode – get it into your head,” she said of her preparation. “Don’t think about practice mode; think about race mode. Swim your hardest. I’m proud of that. It takes a lot of work.”
That training mentality paid off, resulting in three individual medals and four relay medals. It’s always rewarding to place at a meet, especially on an international stage, but what Scherder enjoys most is socializing with her friends on Team USA and meeting fellow athletes from around the world.
“There’s a bunch of really great athletes there from other countries,” she said. “It’s really awesome how we all get to be together and make new friends. It’s always my favorite part.”
Next month, Scherder will travel to Charlotte, North Carolina, to compete in the U.S. Paralympic National Championships. After her success in Portugal, she’s feeling confident about her chances.
At times, it’s been tough to balance training for swim meets with school, but Scherder loves being part of the Succeed Program. After the family moved from Illinois to Troy, Missouri, Scherder saw her siblings attend college and knew she wanted to follow the same path. At UMSL, she’s made new friends and regularly takes part in events on campus. When she’s not studying, socializing or training, she can be found at the RWC leading swimming lessons.
In the future, Scherder hopes to live independently with roommates, and she could see herself being a swim coach or teacher. For now, she’s still weighing her options: “My future goal is to find my forever job.”
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