Eight more medals for Team USA as Swanson, Gardner earn silver and first career international podiums

by Kristen Gowdy

Christy Gardner competes in Santiago. (Photo by Javier Salvo/Santiago 2023)

SANTIAGO, CHILE – Para track and field newcomers Taylor Swanson (Spokane, Washington) and Christy Gardner (Lewiston, Maine) found themselves on the podium for the first time in their international careers, each earning silver to help lead Team USA on an eight-medal third day of competition at the 2023 Parapan American Games in Santiago, Chile.

Also snagging silver for the U.S. were wheelchair racers Hannah Dederick (Mead, Washington) and Phillip Croft (Spokane, Washington), who each took home their second medals of the meet. Dederick’s came in the 800-meter T54 competition, while Croft excelled in the men’s 400-meter T53. Americans also picked up four bronzes courtesy of Catarina Guimaraes (Cranford, New Jersey), Robert Hunt (Spokane, Washington), Evan Correll (Waukee, Iowa) and Stirley Jones (Lake Butler, Florida).

Team USA’s medal total now stands at 28 with two days remaining in competition.

Brand new to Para track and field, Swanson burst onto the scene with her first career international medal. An able-bodied sprinter until she was recently diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Swanson said she is taking in the new experience of competing as a Para athlete.

“I’m pretty new to this,” she said. “I have had all the signs of CP but was only just diagnosed. This is a completely new experience. I’m just learning about it, honestly. I don’t know much. I’m just starting.”

Today, her time of 27.31 put her into the silver medal position by more than two seconds and was Swanson’s personal best time by about half a second. Teammates Michelle Cross (Mission Viejo, California) and Janie Richardson (Flagstaff, Arizona) placed fifth and seventh, respectively.

For Swanson, integrating herself into the Para track and field community has been a learning experience. She recently moved to Spokane, Washington, to train with ParaSport Spokane on a more regular basis.

“It would be awesome to make the 2024 Paralympic Team, that’s obviously the big goal,” she said. “But a more realistic goal is just learning more about this sport and what I’m capable of, and seeing where that takes me.”

After finishing just off the podium in yesterday’s discus competition, Gardner responded with an upset silver medal in the women’s shot put F57. Ranked fourth heading into the event, Gardner surged up to second with a best mark of 9.46.

The medal is the first international medal of Gardner’s career and comes as she makes her international debut in Para track and field. The former sled hockey player has previously represented the U.S. as a member of the women’s national sled hockey team.

The U.S. Army veteran held back tears after achieving the medal she had worked so hard for.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Gardner said. “It’s really not a spot I thought I’d be in this time around, which makes it even better. This experience has been nuts, from the day the team kit arrived to coming here to Santiago with the team, it’s just been an amazing experience.”

Adding her second medal in two events was Dederick, who has yet to place lower than second in Santiago. Today’s women’s 800-meter T54 competition was no different, as Dederick ran to a 1:49.81, finishing behind only Aline Dos Santos of Brazil.

Primarily known for her sprinting capabilities, Dederick said she is trying to get as much experience as possible in Santiago.

“This is a great race to do, and it feels great to medal,” she said. “I wanted to race as much as I can here, and I’m happy with how it’s been going.”

Dederick will return to the track for both the 100-meter – her best event – and the 1500-meter. In a mixed class event, T53 athlete Chelsea Stein (Spring, Texas) placed fifth and missed the podium, but was the fastest finisher in her classification.

Croft and Hunt, meanwhile, combined for Team USA’s double podium on the day, winning silver and bronze in the men’s 400-meter T53.

Croft, in his first major international competition, thanked his coaches and staff for helping his meet run smoothly. Today, he battled to edge his teammate Hunt by just .25 seconds.

“I love the atmosphere out here,” he said. “All the people around us have helped me find success here. I feel like it’s gone very smoothly for me.”

Croft has now shared the podium with teammates in both of his medal performances.

“It says a lot about the U.S. field,” he said. “We’re very competitive and willing to help each other out and push each other. I think that’s what makes us such a strong team.”

Hunt, meanwhile, is a veteran athlete who competed at the 2013 Para Athletics World Championships. Having been around wheelchair racing for so long, his experience has proved valuable to some of his newer teammates, including Croft.

“I just tell them to keep their heads up and not to worry too much about placement,” Hunt said. “It’s a great time to get your feet wet, have fun, and get used to the competition.”

Today, Hunt’s time of 52.48 landed him on the podium by a full two seconds.

“It was a two-second PR for me,” he said. “I’ve just got to keep my head down and keep going. It just shows that no matter how old you are, you can come back out here and get onto the podium.”

Guimaraes, who competes at High Point University, found redemption in the form of a bronze medal in the women’s 100-meter T38 competition. Four years ago, at the last edition of the Parapan American Games, Guimaraes, making her debut, finished fourth in the event.

It made today’s podium extra sweet, she said.

“I could only see two people in front of me and I didn’t know if I was going to get the bronze, but man, I was hoping,” she said. “I felt like I’ve been moving with the crowd as people get faster, everyone’s getting faster, and it’s awesome to know that I’m moving with them.”

Guimaraes sprinted to a season-best time of 14.07.

“Everyone’s gotten so much faster, I knew it was going to be a tough race,” she said. “I was really nervous heading into this. This pool of ladies is a step above. There were a lot of us that were really close together. I talked to my coach and knew that if I executed my race plan, that’s all I had control over.”

Earning his second medal in Santiago was Correll, who snuck a bronze in one of the tightest competitions of the meet thus far. The top four positions were decided by less than half a second, and Correll was able to inch into third in 48.05.

“I saw the guy on my right sneaking up on me and I was really close behind the guy on my left, I was catching up to him,” an elated Correll said after his race. “It’s a huge honor, I definitely wasn’t expecting to perform this well and I’m very happy.”

As he looks to qualify for his first Paralympic Games next summer, Correll said his experience in Santiago is motivating him.

“This gives me a lot of confidence,” he said. “I had two big PRs today, so it’s a major, major feeling of accomplishment right now.”

Competing in the same race as Correll, Miguel Jimenez-Vergara (Lawrenceville, New Jersey), who already has two medals in Santiago, placed fifth,

In his first international meet since 2018, Jones nabbed the bronze in the men’s 100-meter T13 competition, finishing with a time of 11.39 and edging his way onto the podium by .13 seconds.

For Jones, getting back to the international stage has been a long journey. He concludes his Parapan Am debut with a podium finish in his only event.

“This is my first full season back, so I’m really pleased,” he said. “To be able to come here, to not really know how I was going to do, and to come back with a medal is really special.”

Keeping with the Thanksgiving holiday theme, Jones expressed gratitude for his medal and the opportunity to represent his country.

“I’m just really thankful,” he said. “It’s been a long journey.”

In his first event final of the meet, Paralympic champion David Brown (St. Louis, Missouri) teamed with guide Je’Von Hutchison (Boynton Beach, Florida) for fourth place in the men’s 100-meter T11. Paralympian Marshall Zackery (Ocala, Florida) put together a stellar performance in the men’s 100-meter T35 competition, finishing fourth with a season-best time.

Track and field competition resumes Nov. 24 at 3 p.m. local time with the penultimate day of the sport at the Parapan American Games Santiago 2023. Follow U.S. Paralympics Track & Field on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for Team USA updates and results.

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Team USA Medals – November 23


Phillip Croft – men’s 400-meter T53

Hannah Dederick – women’s 800-meter T54

Christy Gardner – women’s shot put F57

Taylor Swanson – women’s 200-meter T37

Evan Correll – men’s 400-meter T54

Catarina Guimaraes – women’s 100-meter T38

Robert Hunt – men’s 400-meter T53

Stirley Jones – men’s 100-meter T13

Other Team USA Results:

David Brown/Je’Von Hutchison – 4th, men’s 100-meter T11

Marshall Zackery – 4th, men’s 100-meter T35

Michelle Cross – 5th, women’s 200-meter T37

Miguel Jimenez-Vergara – 5th, men’s 400-meter T54

Nicholas McCoy – 5th, men’s 100-meter T52

Chelsea Stein – 5th, women’s 800-meter T54

Tanner Wright – 5th, men’s long jump T47

Austin Spalla – 6th, men’s 100-meter T35

Matthew Paintin – 7th, men’s 100-meter T35

Janie Richardson – 7th, women’s 200-meter T37
Emily Lopez – prelims, women’s 400-meter T47

Jordan McGuire – prelims, women’s 100-meter T38

Jason Robinson – prelims, men’s 400-meter T54