The Rise of Mary Fisher: Paralympic Swimmer
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The Rise of Mary Fisher: Paralympic Swimmer

November 18, 2019

[Commentator] Mary Fisher kicking hard
in the centre of the lane. But Fisher seemed to come out of the
turn like a train there! [Mary] Going into the final ranked second
and, you know, to win it… just so cool to see all the
sweat, blood and tears totally pay off. You know, you’re not seeing
any of the people… but when they stand for the
national anthem… there’s seventeen thousand seats
all flicking up at one time. [cheering] That’s probably my favorite sound
of the last couple of years. [sound of cars driving by and a
cane across the ground] [Narrator] On the streets of
Wellington, New Zealand… Mary Fisher walks with a new confidence… In pursuing her Paralympic dream, she’d pushed herself
well out of her comfort zone. [Mary] I think the biggest change
that’s happened… is that I’ve gotten more
confident in my abilities, not just sporting or anything like that… but just in the practical and
social aspects of life… that it’s okay to be blind
and have a disability. Hi, number three? [Driver] Yeah, number three. [Mary] Great. [Narrator] Mary is completely blind. The result of a genetic disorder. [Mary] The eye condition that caused my
vision loss is called Aniridia. So pretty much that just means no iris and so the blue, brown, or green,
whatever other colors they come in… that part of my eye just didn’t develop. The loss of an iris means there’s
nothing blocking out sunlight. Growing up I had about 10% of normal vision. I could not do some of the things
which the other kids could… like walk on a beam, I found really difficult. Or I had no depth perception,
so I couldn’t see stairs or if the ground was wet,
where the puddles were. But I could read print when it was large and I could see colors and shapes
which were close to me. And then when I was fifteen
I gradually lost the rest of my sight. Now I can see light and dark. [Narrator] As her sight deteriorated
her swimming career took off. [Mary] I’ve been swimming for four years
with the Upper Hutt swimming club and I went to some race nights
and I was always the slowest person. And then I started swimming
with all Wellington meets. I thought that I should get faster,
and all of my friends were getting faster. I’d like to be one of the best
people there… and I practice hard to get there. [Narrator] Just six years after she began… she took to the pool in her first major event, The London 2012 Paralympic Games. [cheering] [starting klaxon] [Narrator] Leading into the games
Mary was a rank outsider. Selected because she showed promise,
she was a surprise performer. As she powers down the final length,
she has everyone on their feet. [cheering] [Interviewer] Wow world record, gold medal!? Oh… crazy! I don’t know what to say! The final went to plan as much
as it could have. I’m just really, really happy with the swim. [interviewer] The expectations coming in,
has this exceeded expectations? Absolutely exceeded my expectations. I came to pretty much experience the
Paralympic atmosphere and to do my best. And I’m just really, really happy that my
best has got me into the finals. I’ve never ever heard a crowd before
when I’ve been swimming and I could hear it all the way through 400…
It was crazy! [Announcer] Gold medalist representing
New Zealand… Mary Fisher! [cheering] I never really thought of myself
before London… as someone that would come away
with four medals, a world record and… I really want to keep swimming
and to stay in that place and improve and advance my
swimming career. It’s going to be tricky but exciting. [Narrator] It’s a new year and
a new campaign. The upcoming world champs in
Canada are a chance to prove… that her performance in
London wasn’t a fluke. And to add to the pressure there,
she has a new coach. [Coach] Remember what we talked about
in relation to streamlining? Ok, so those push offs are really important. Make sure that turn is spot on as well. Okay, especially streamlining out of it. Don’t snatch the breaststroke either. [Coach] Two, one, go… We certainly need to be looking at
10 or 11 sessions a week and we need to be looking at those
being two hour sessions. So there is a lot of work to be done. [Narrator] Mary swims in the totally
blind classification S-11. Each swimmer has blacked out goggles
in case some have light perception. [Narrator] Vision impaired swimmers
rely on a tapper to warn them that the end of the pool is a body length away. [Mary] When I feel the tap I know
it’s about a stroke and a half and… that on the next arm stroke
usually I’ll be turning. Sometimes swimming for me is a contact
sport because the tapper is either… distracted or they just miss for some
reason and you don’t feel the tap. And there have been a couple
of chipped teeth… and a few sore heads in my experience. But, all in all, it’s a pretty good system. [Coach] So you’ve come in there
at about 3.30, okay? I want you to hold on to
that pace, alright? Be very mindful of the backstroke,
that you’re not switching off. Lengthen those arms. And nice leg kick. You’ve got five seconds. [Coach] Obviously swimming
is very, very visual. We’re obviously on the back foot
there straight away. And it’s our understanding that
we’re wanting distance per stroke. We’re finding at the moment that both
breaststroke and the freestyle, that we’re only pulling half the amount
of water that we could be doing. We have to be really mindful that
whenever we’re doing the stroke… that we’re getting plenty of distance. What we’re tending to do currently… is we’re tending to swimming
at this point here. Now that’s quite nice for strengthening… but what you’ve got to do in the water… you’ve got to extend it through
to that position there. So you’re actually pulling more
water from here to here… as opposed to that bit, you’re only
pulling that much. And then the breast stroke we’re tending
to swim at that point there… where as we need to be coming through here, so we’re pulling the same amount
of water each time. I’d like you there, which again
is nice and long… and then through and in. [Coach] Two, one, go… [water splashing, music] [Mary] I feel really lucky to live
in New Zealand. So many countries if you are blind
or if you are a woman or… so many things can not allow you to do this. [Narrator] Mary’s reviewed
her own life plan and is looking at a career after swimming. [Mary] I’m quite interested in doing
speech language therapy, just because the way that I navigate life is through language and I think it
would be something very cool to be able to have a positive
impact on someone. [Narrator] A top student,
she’s realised the reality is she cannot study full time like her peers. [Mary] Everyone does talk about
sacrifice for your sport. For me, it’s the not feeling academically
equal to my peers, I guess. Just the socializing and being
a regular young person in New Zealand a lot of those things just go out the window. [music] [cane across the ground] [Mary] At the end of 2011
I wanted to go flatting… because I’d been traveling into
Wellington city from Upper Hutt. It was a six hour round trip every day to train. That is tedious and seemed
like something that could be changed. This is all kind of open. So some of the previous flatmates
were a bit worried about… “Ooo what’s going to happen with the stairs?” So I pretty much just stick to
this side and take care. There’s twenty stairs so I just remember
two, thirteen, and five. So there’s seven of us in the flat.
Four upstairs here… we’ve got Hannah, Lousia
and then our token guy Cam. and I’m at the back. It works well. We’ve got a sweet view. So the most difficult thing about
flatting for me are… we’re all a group of young people
20 to 29 years old and we have quite thin walls
and I guess the noise. Sometimes I’ll have to get up in the
morning or have to pack. Also, the logistics of having 8 people’s
stuff in one house can be tricky! But, in saying that, it’s been great everyone
has taken on board living with a person who is blind or vision impaired. We’ve got quite a fun thing going on
just following some of those… “Hi Mary, it’s Louisa in the lounge!” It’s totally over the top but it’s good fun. [Flatmate] Do you know where
the baking powder is? [Mary] Yep, it’s just in one of my drawers. We’ve all got lots of drawers. This is the one we use more, so
I’m guessing this is baking powder. – Baking powder? Soda?
– Yeah that’s right. Powder. Cool. [eggs cracking] [Mary] What I try and tell people is I definitely
don’t have super sonic hearing… I can’t hear really high like a bat or anything. But I have to pay attention to the
little details that are going on around me. It’s just being more observant of your
world in different ways than everyone else. Keep that open and then… just getting it in without burning
yourself is a lot of practice. I do remember a time at home where
I was trying to pick something up and I let the tea towel trail
and the bottom caught fire! But it didn’t come to anything and
it was a good learning experience. [Narrator] The New Zealand National
Swim Champs is an integrated event with both Olympic and Paralympic athletes. It’s a chance to see how Mary is
tracking towards Canada. [Coach] Must make sure your
stroke rate is good. Must make sure we’ve got
length in those arms. Watch this drifting. You must be pulling the same amount
of water from both arms… – No ping pong
– No ping pong – Yup
– Enjoy it. [Mary] The half hour before a major race
for me, is just trying to find ‘me time’ and thinking about one or two things I am
going to concentrate on during the race and hopefully that sinks in somewhere. The things that make me nervous are… will all the work I’ve put in
beforehand pay off? Can I really push myself
to the absolute limit? And wanting to forgo any of your
fears of letting yourself down… or your coach or your family down. [whistle] [starting klaxon] [Narrator] Mary has few competitors
in New Zealand. Mostly she’s racing the clock. [cheering] [Narrator] Mary has just smashed the
World Record by 2 seconds. [Mary] It’s very exciting to have that
‘W.R.’ next to your name. To hold that top in the world spot is
something I’d only ever dreamed of and it’s really exciting to see that come
to fruition and will hopefully continue. [choir singing] [Mary] When you’re training full time,
you can get a bit flat… so just to have a couple of things
outside of training has really helped. [choir singing] Music for me, is something where
people can communicate… or if I’m playing, I can do it for myself
or for others and… there doesn’t have to be one
meaning behind it… you can interpret it a lot of different ways. [clapping] [Trainer] Release the bottom and
keep your core switched on. [Narrator] Training is ramping up. The Worlds in Canada are
just around the corner. The team around Mary is honing in on the
improvements she needs to make to defend her world record. Swimmers, they train an exceptional amount. So you’ve got people that are
training twice a day, in some cases for five days a week, and then they might do
one session on a Saturday. So you’ve got a huge amount of swimming… and although you’re doing quite a specific
movement you still need to strengthen up that movement and
that’s where we come in. Down nice and slow. Release. Keep that core turned on. Through the heels. Bang. Good. [Trainer] I try not to be too specific
in terms of her alignment. What I do see is if she is squatting… she may favour her left or right leg. I’m constantly telling her
what it looks like… “You’re tilting.” Nice Mary. Trying to build that kayak, so you’re
going through the water nice and strong. [Mary] Maybe it’s not having the visual cues, it gives you more of a central feeling… rather than if you’re really dominant or
a bit wobbly in your core… then for me, its probably not
swimming as straight as I should, which means I’m swimming further,
which takes longer. [Trainer] Chest out.
Don’t arch the back too much. Squeeze it right up so this leg is
parallel with your stomach. [Mary] When I go to Canada, racing
against the top people… maybe some of them will be looking at me… but I just need to know that I’ve done
everything I possibly could to swim as fast as I can. [sound of a brailler] [Mary] This is a Perkins Brailler… it’s pretty ancient but its very durable. I’ve just made a list for Montreal. I’ve got uniform, passport, laptop,
Protein Powder… Canadian notes. These are some Canadian notes. I’m just sorting through them
before we go away. When I’m in New Zealand I just fold
any notes that I have. Once if it’s a $10. Twice if it’s a $5. Or just keep it flat if it’s a $20. We’ve just found that on one of the
corners there’s a little braille cell. There are six dots. And I’ve just gone through them with
someone that can see… and they’ve told me this is a $5. This is a good system by the
Canadian government. This one has two, which means its $10. And this one has three, so its a $20. [music] These are my New Zealand shirts
which I’ll be wearing in Canada. And because we all have the
same kind of stuff… it can get a bit tricky with knowing
who’s is who’s. So my Mum has just chucked a couple
of pom-poms on the label and this one is a white one
because it just has one set. And all the black stuff… this is a singlet, but it has one on each end. To keep up the top in the world you
have to want it enough. You just go in with the attitude of
doing your best and not worrying about what
anyone else is going to do. [French Canadian announcer] [Narrator] The World Champs is the
biggest para swimming event… outside the Paralympics. There will be 500 athletes from
60 countries vying for the medals. [Coach] Move over Mary. First one there was 19 came out on 22… Your back end is too slow. Ready, two, one, go! [Coach] The main thing over the
last couple of days has been… to emphasize that we need to be
swimming in a straight line. We need to be confident that we’re pulling
the same amount of water off both arms and being confident that we’re going
to hit the wall nice and square… and push off of it square and
carry on down that same line. [Narrator] Even before the races begin, athletes try to get the psychological
edge over each other. [Mary] At a competition, there are
a lot of macho guys… doing their whole slappy, flappy things, and just generally trying to psych everyone out,
at marshalling or in warm up. So I guess I’m probably lucky
I don’t see any of that stuff. Then also when some people say,
“Oh it looks so far down the pool,” and I’m like, “It doesn’t matter
the hill is not there, I can’t see it!” [Announcer] Ladies and gentleman,
please welcome to the pool… the competitors for the finals
of event number 20. [Narrator] This is Mary’s first final,
100 meters backstroke. For this event in London,
Mary took home bronze. [French Canadian announcer] [Commentator] Lane four, Olympic
champion in the 200 medley… Mary Fisher from New Zealand. What can Mary Fisher do? [whistle] [starting klaxon] [Commentator] 100 backstroke. It’s really difficult to navigate
yourself around the pool here, especially if you get caught
on the lane ropes. Again a lot of pressure on the tappers there. Big long tapping stick for Daniela Schulte. Fisher probably got the better turn there,
came out strongly. [cheers] [Commentator] Daniela Schulte
coming back strongly here. Mary Fisher just with the edge… but there’s not much in it at all. Mary Fisher now coming in for New Zealand. Can it be a gold medal for New Zealand here? Schulte trying very hard to get back on terms! All in the touch there… And Fisher gets it! 1:20.31
– just by .3 of a second! [Mary] The first 50 felt great… and the second 50 I should have
got my turn a little bit tighter. I could just feel Daniela coming at
me on the last five meters… because we were right by the same lane rope. Really it was such a close finish. [music] [cheering] [Mary] When you’re at a competition,
the hustle and bustle at the pool and everyone whistling on the breaststrokers, and it’s just a pretty draining environment. I find it really useful just to have
a rest between sessions and having a bit of quiet time. When I lie down… I think about the couple of good things
that happened this morning and then think of a couple of things
I really want to work on tonight. [Announcer] Representing New Zealand…
Mary Fisher. [cheering] [Narrator] Mary is competing in five events
over seven days. [Announcer] Take your marks. [starting klaxon] [Commentator] It’s a clean start. And fastest away – Martinez… 71/100s of a second. But into the lead: Mary Fisher
of New Zealand. She’s two and a half seconds ahead. There’s no doubt about who’s going
to win this gold medal… Mary Fisher the swimmer from New Zealand! You can’t see the rest here
as she comes in… outside the world record! [Mary] I didn’t breathe for the last… probably about nine strokes and… thought the wall was going to be a little
bit closer than it was but made it to the end so that’s what counts. [starting klaxon] [cheering] [Commentator] Mary fisher, just
veering over to the right now. She’s going to take it! Mary Fisher, she was strong! [Narrator] She brings home;
four golds, one silver… and two oceania records. [Mary] Looking forward,
the motivation is to… try and stay at the top and to
better myself as a person. And hopefully bring some younger
kids into the sport… because it’s done a whole lot for me
in a positive way. [Announcer] Ladies and gentlemen,
your world championship medalist!

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