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Hail our hometown Paralympic hero, Brickelle Bro

Champion freestyle swimmer Brickelle Bro (standing, left) with fellow members of Team USA at the Paralympic Games in London.

By Lisa Crockett; photos courtesy of the Bro family

“Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” It is a famous line from the blockbuster Disney hit movie “Finding Nemo.” The movie is a favorite of local swimming star and Paralympic athlete Brickelle Bro, a fitting favorite for someone who has achieved success by just . . . swimming.

In September, Bro swam the women’s 400 Freestyle as a part of Team USA at the Paralympic Games. At just 15 years old, she’s one of the youngest people on the team and the combination of homesickness, training schedules, and the pressure of being on the world stage could have proved disastrous – and indeed it almost did.

“During the preliminaries, I really psyched myself out. I started out way too fast and couldn’t keep the pace,” said Bro.

But rather than feel defeated or discouraged, Bro took a different view. “I was eighth in the preliminaries. I barely made it to the finals, but I figured it couldn’t get any worse. I had nothing to lose.”

With an easy smile and relaxed demeanor, Bro finished the finals in a respectable fifth place, swimming the event at her fastest time ever: 5:20:42.

“It was the best race of my life,” she said. “It is an amazing feeling to be there to represent your country.”

Bro was born with legs that end just below her knee joints, and it was clear early in her life that she was a natural swimmer.

“Even when she was really little, she loved the water,” said Brickelle’s mom, Heather. “I think she just always liked the feeling of freedom it gave her.”

And with her characteristic perseverance and desire to “just keep swimming” it soon became evident that swimming was a passion.

“Even if I’m really stressed about school or other things, I go swim hard and I feel like I’ve really accomplished something,” said Bro.

Bro’s determination seems contagious, and her excitement to participate in the games spread like wildfire throughout the community, especially at Rock Canyon High School, where Bro is a sophomore. Though Bro was only at school a few days at the beginning of the school year before departing for two weeks of pre-game training in Germany, classmates made sure she knew they were rooting for her. Posters and t-shirts with the slogan “Go Bro” were everywhere at school. During her time in Germany, the student body surprised her by holding a pep rally in her honor, and having her watch the rally via Skype.

“So many people wished me luck and congratulated me,” said Bro. “I hadn’t realized that people were even aware of what I was doing.”

Spending nearly a month away from her parents, living in unfamiliar surroundings during training and competition, was a daunting proposition – “terrifying” in her words – for someone so young. But Bro said making friends and training with other elite swimmers and living in the Olympic Village was the experience of a lifetime.

“It was amazing to be with the other athletes ’24/7′, living and training with them. We’re best friends now,” said Bro. “When we weren’t training we watched movies on my laptop. One of the other swimmers is blind, so we described the movies to her while we were watching.”

Back at home, Bro’s influence is felt throughout the community as she speaks to local groups about her experiences in the Games and in her life. In her presentation she tells about a particularly harrowing one-mile freestyle race: Sometime during the 66 laps required to swim a mile, Bro’s cap came off and her long hair came loose from her ponytail, making it difficult for her to see and breathe properly. The lap counter for her lane lost track of the laps she had been swimming, so she wasn’t sure how long she had been swimming or how much longer she had left. But she just kept going until finally, mercifully, the race ended.

“I tell the groups I talk to that at anything in life, you just have to keep going. In the end, it will be worth it,” said Bro.

Bro is now looking ahead to future competitions including the next Paralympic games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. In the meantime, you can find her in the pool, where she’ll just keep swimming, just like she always has.
    
Paralympian and Castle Pines resident Brickelle Bro immediately following the 400 meter freestyle race in London, where Bro took fifth place at the Paralympic Games.

With Brickelle are her brother Cayden, 13, and her sister Hadley, 9. “My brother and sister are my biggest cheerleaders,” said Bro.

Paralympian and Castle Pines resident Brickelle Bro immediately
following the 400 meter freestyle race in London, where Bro took fifth
place at the Paralympic Games. 

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