November, 2021. I receive a call asking me to attend a training camp working with visually impaired Paratriathletes. Specifically, a two time Paralympic swimmer who was interested in learning more about triathlon. I, of course, agreed immediately. That girl, was McClain Hermes.
I traveled down to Alabama, where I met McClain. Quick witted, fast learner, competitive, driven, with a great sense of humor - we hit it off immediately. She has an incredible story, which she has graciously agreed to let me to share . . . it is my honor to tell you about McClain:
McClain’s vision problems began when she was 8 years old. During school one day, she suddenly could not see out of one eye. For over 12 years now, she has been dealing with issues related to retina detachments and has had numerous surgeries in an attempt to save her eyesight. Despite all this, she is now completely blind in her right eye (no light perception) and only has a limited amount of light perception remaining in her left eye. She has a diagnosis of Wagners Syndrome, which not only caused the retina detachments, but also led to her being color blind, completely night blind, having glaucoma, and her progressive vision loss.
As someone who had always loved to swim, and having the determination to continue to swim competitively no matter the obstacle (as well as having some incredibly supportive parents), McClain has turned her disability of being legally blind into her ability in the pool! She is a Paralympic swimmer that currently holds over 20 American Records, 5 Pan American Records, and 1 World Record for the S11 and S12 Vision Classes. In 2018 McClain won 2 gold and 4 silver medals at the PanPacific Championships, and she won 2 bronze, 1 silver, and 1 gold medal at the 2019 PanAmerican Games.
At the age of 15, McClain was the YOUNGEST member of the 2016 USA Paralympic Team in Rio, and competed in three swimming events. She competed in the 2017 Paralympic World Championship, where she earned a gold medal and was named World Champion in the S11 division for the 400 Freestyle. She also earned two silver medals and two bronze medals for the S11 Vision Class at the World Championships. She is currently the National Champion in the 400 freestyle, 200 freestyle, 1500 freestyle, 100 backstroke, 100 breaststroke.
McClain represented Team USA again at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Japan where she competed in four events: the 100 backstroke, 100 breastroke, 200 IM, and 400 freestyle. She finished 6th in the world in the 400 freestyle and finished 10th, 11th, and 13th in her other events.
After her success in Tokyo at the Paralympic Games, McClain decided to try her hand at a new sport, and has transitioned from ParaSwimming to Paratriathlon. Her goal is to compete in the 2024 and 2028 Paralympic Games as a triathlete and to bring home a medal. McClain wants to show others that it is possible to Just Keep Tri-ing despite any adversity or hardships they may face.
Not only is she a talented athlete, but she is an intelligent and intrinsically motivated student who graduated from Gwinnett Online Campus in May 2019 and accepted a Presidential scholarship to study at Loyola University in Baltimore, Maryland where she studied Communications with a focus in journalism. She has set high academic standards for herself and she has to work hard due to being legally blind to maintain those standards. McClain was a member of the National Honor Society and named a USA Swimming Scholastic All American. At Loyola she has been a part of the Dean’s List and Presidential Honor Roll for her high GPA each semester and was nominated to five different honor societies.
As a journalism intern with Swimming World Magazine, McClain has written several successful articles reaching over 800,000 readers. Her goal is to be a professional motivational speaker, author, and entrepreneur.
McClain has spoken throughout the United States about her accomplishments in the pool and her community service. Back in 2009, McClain and her father began “Shoes for the Souls” as a small service project. The first year she collected and donated 365 pairs of new and slightly used shoes to the Atlanta Mission, which serves homeless men, women, and children. That "small service project", started by an eight year old, has now collected and donated over 27,000 pairs of shoes to The Atlanta Mission.
McClain continues to motivate others to see beyond their perceived disabilities and pursue their dreams with perseverance and dedication. She hopes that other young people hear her message about Shoes for the Souls and realize that it doesn't take large sums of money and you don't have to be an adult to make a positive impact on your community
As you can see, she’s pretty amazing. We did some racing together last year, and will be kicking the race season off on March 11, in Sarasota Florida - stay tuned for details!
Here are some additional articles about McClain:
Fox 5 DC
D2L Fusion speech: