This 17-Year-Old Swimmer and TikToker Just Won Gold at the Paralympics in Tokyo


As the U.S. Athletes continue to dominate the Tokyo Paralympics, a 17-year-old has also broken her own world record of 400-meter freestyle swimming at 4:54:49.

This New Yorker is in many ways, your typical teenager. She posts videos on TikTok and absolutely loves her dog. However, there is one thing that makes Anastasia Pagonis far from average. She just won gold at the Tokyo Paralympics for swimming, and just like any other teenager on TikTok, she used the platform to celebrate with her two-million supporters of the major win.


@anastasia_k_pnot sure how to feel♬ original sound – iwannatrypercs????


When Anastasia was 14-years-old, she rapidly lost her sight over the course of two months because of an autoimmune disease. The Paralympian has genetic autoimmune retinopathy, which means her immune system attacks her retinas. She told TODAY how losing her sight was a struggle, on top of being a teenage girl.

“Being a teenage girl is hard, so having that on top of it was just such a struggle for me,” she said. “It took me about eight months to kind of regroup myself, and then I got it in my head, ‘OK, I’m blind. Now what am I going to do with my life?’”

She told when she lost her vision, she dropped into a “dark depression.” She felt “extremely suicidal” but with her dog by her side, she was never alone.

That’s when she got into competitive swimming. Six months prior to losing her vision, Anastasia was a mid-distance freestyler who took swimming up as a sport and decided to return back to swimming afterward.

“It’s my happy place. It’s the place where I feel like I don’t have a disability and I feel like that’s the only place where I feel free. When I dive in the water, it’s just me in the pool and I feel such a connection with it,” she told TODAY.

Before making her Paralympic debut in Tokyo, the Paralympian swimmer won two gold medals at the World Para Swimming World Series in Australia just before the coronavirus pandemic shut things down. Now, according to Team USA, she’s broken the world record she set earlier in June at the US Paralympic Trials.

“If you told me this a few years ago, I wouldn’t even think I’d be alive, so just being here and being able to have this experience and this opportunity – unbelievable,” Anastasia said.

In addition to breaking world records, and winning gold at the Paralympics, Anastasia is using the social media app TikTok to educate her viewers about her disability. She pokes fun at some of the questions asked on the platform about her blindness and also attempts many popular TikTok dances with the help of her mom.


@anastasia_k_pFun times♬ original sound – Anastasia Pagonis


Yet, she tries to keep her videos educational for her viewers. She shows the viewers how she’s able to swim in the pool without bumping into the wall, with the help of someone standing outside the pool and tapping her on the head with a swimming ‘noodle’ so she knows when its time to turn, as well as how she does her makeup.

“I just want to teach people that this is blind, not just what you think is blind where you have to wear sunglasses and you can’t do anything,” she told Team USA. “This is blind.”


@anastasia_k_pI leave for Tokyo in three weeks!!!♬ original sound – Anastasia Pagonis


As the Paralympian continues to educate her viewers and break records, she’ll be competing again in Friday’s 50-meter freestyle, Monday’s 200-meter individual medley, and next Friday’s 100-meter freestyle, where she’ll have the chance to win even more medals for Team USA.


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