Mundelein High swimmer doesn't let legal blindness slow her down
MacKenzie Strong has dealt with a lot in her young life.
Being born with both legal blindness and albinism, many challenges have presented themselves to the Mundelein High student. Strong realized at a very young age that the blindness would have a constant impact, but found out at the age of 9 that she also had albinism (a congenital disorder that creates a lack of pigment in the skin). But attitude always shined stronger than obstacles for Strong, who found a major love for swimming. She didn't let her conditions hold her back, and her peers at Mundelein noticed her positive demeanor right away.
"MacKenzie's enthusiasm made a positive first impression on her teammates and coaches, and that was something she consistently impressed us with throughout the season." Assistant Girls' Swimming Coach Kristina Mazzuca said.
Strong instantly felt a kinship with the people at Mundelein, and they worked well together. "Everyone at Mundelein has supported me since I came here, and they've had an open mind in supporting me with my accommodations," Strong said. "They've always included me and welcomed me and I never feel left out."
They created a smooth athletic environment together, and are able to work around Strong's difficulties. She cites Michael Phelps as an inspiration in the pool for her, as he overcame his ADHD to find great success as an Olympic swimmer. MacKenzie hopes to do the same thing for other kids that have the disabilities she does, as one of her major goals is to inspire and involve them in whatever they love to do.
Swimming with blindness has its setbacks, but MacKenzie has always been able to adapt her style and is willing to challenge herself at every turn. She used to be tapped on the shoulder to prepare for approaching turns in the pool, but that proved to be difficult at Mundelein, so they worked together to create a new system.
"Rather than use the method only part of the time, MacKenzie decided to completely adapt by counting her full strokes on her own for the entire length of the pool," Mazzuca said. "Throughout the season, she slowly became comfortable not using the tapping method. The black lines that are painted at the bottom of the pool help as well, since the 'T' at the end of the lane is a good indicator for her to turn, and she can make out the darker shape of the painted lines in contrast with the water," Mazzuca said.
That speaks to the hard work and passion of Strong, who works to improve every day.
MacKenzie also rises to the occasion in the big moments, setting a personal best swimming time at the IHSA state meet this year, in just her freshman season. This phenom truly showcases an excitement for the sport, and she hopes to compete on the Para-Olympic swim team in 2020. She has a message for other kids who have been faced with similar challenges in their life. When asked what keeps her going, she said, "What keeps me motivated the most is that I always think of other people with my condition, and I want to show them that it doesn't matter what condition you have or what obstacles you face; you can always do what you want to do. I guess I've always wanted to be a role model. Never let anything hold you back. As long as you communicate what you need, there's no reason why you can't do everything everyone else is doing."