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Faces in the Crowd: Anastasia Pagonis

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In 2015, Anastasia Pagonis’s central vision declined due to autoimmune retinopathy and two genetic diseases disorders. The swimmer won a silver in the 400-meter freestyle and a bronze in the 100 fly at the Para World Series in May 2018. Six months later Anastasia, then 14, lost her eyesight completely.

“I gave up on myself—I gave up on my dreams,” Anastasia says now. “I just thought that if I was going to be blind, then there was no point even living anymore.”

Anastasia stopped swimming. She was unable to sleep or really eat. She drank just one smoothie a day, which was all she could consume without feeling nauseated. For most of the nine months after she lost her sight, Anastasia was suicidal. She met with therapists and doctors and says she realized “getting out of a funk” had to come from within.

In the spring of 2019, Anastasia began to train again. Last February she won golds in the 200-meter IM (2:54.23) and the 400 free (5:18.12) at the 2020 World Para World Series. She was invited to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, which she attended with her guide dog, Radar, over the summer in preparation for next year’s Paralympic trials.

With renewed confidence and a new perspective on her condition, Anastasia has used social media to advocate for the blind community and embrace positivity. “I want to help people,” she says. “I get DMs from teenagers all the time saying they’re being bullied for their weight or for their disability, and I just feel for them so much.”