Abbey Nardella is a typical 16-year-old in many ways. She loves being with her friends, volunteering with her peers and is looking forward to getting her driver’s license this month. Mostly though, she’s an elite athlete and a dedicated swimmer.
That’s why through hard work, dedication and a little help from her community, Abbey Nardella is heading to Lima, Peru on Monday, Aug. 19, to represent both Maple Valley and the United States. Abbey Nardella is one of 35 athletes from around the nation who were invited to swim in the Parapan American Games in Peru.
The 2019 Parapan American Games is an international multi-sport event for athletes with disabilities. It opens on Friday, Aug. 23, and will run until Sunday, Sept. 1.
“I never thought this would happen,” Abbey Nardella said. “I am so excited.”
Abbey Nardella was born with achondroplasia, a type of dwarfism that affects the size of her legs and arms. She comes from an athletic family. The oldest daughter of three, her siblings enjoy rock climbing and soccer. Because of her condition, she has to be careful about the strain she puts on her skeletal system. She always wanted to be athletic, and her mother, Mindy Nardella, wanted a way for her to stay healthy. That’s when swimming came into play.
When Abbey Nardella was around 10 she joined a regional club called Shadow Seals, which is a swimming club for children with disabilities. She is also a member of the Chinook Aquatics Club.
“The Seals introduced me to the Paralympics world,” Abbey Nardella said. “I enjoyed club swimming, but I wanted to do high school swimming for the social aspect.”
Abbey Nardella fell in love with swimming quickly.
“It’s a very personal sport. You against the clock,” she said. “There are many sports I can’t do because they are high impact. But swimming has helped me a lot.”
Abbey Nardella is a member on the Tahoma High School swim and dive team. Her coach, Dave Wright, is proud to see a Tahoma Bear compete in a world-wide competition.
“It’s a huge honor to qualify for this team and to represent your country,” Wright stated in an email.
Abbey Nardella doesn’t like to compare her self to her able-bodied classmates, but she is considered an elite athlete among her peers. The Tahoma team welcomed her with open arms, and soon she became great friends with her classmates and coaches.
“Even in the off season I like to go in during lunch and catch up with my coaches,” Abbey Nardella said.
Abbey Nardella’s favorite races are the 50-free-stroke and the 50-fly. In Peru she will compete once a day for six days, with a different style of race each event.
“I’m really looking forward to this type of team experience,” she said.
While in Peru she will be staying with and only interacting with her fellow teammates. Mindy Nardella had to sign over guardianship of her daughter, and will only see her from the stands during the week. The rest of the Nardella family will travel to Peru separately from Abbey Nardella, ready to cheer her on.
“We are just so excited for her,” Mindy Nardella said. “She has worked really hard and has become a leader since she started this.”
Abbey Nardella enjoys volunteering at summer camps for disabled children, with other Shadow Seals teams and more. She is blossoming into a leader for those who face physical and mental challenges, and is an example of how dedication can bring opportunity for anyone.
“I love that she wants to be a leader, it makes me so proud,” Mindy Nardella said. “She does a lot of volunteering. She gives back to those and is encouraging to kids.”
It’s not just other, younger children with disabilities who look up to Nardella. Its her siblings too.
Nardella is an optimistic athlete, but even if she doesn’t take home a medal, she knows just being able to attend the Parapan American Games is an honor.
“I still can’t believe I’m going,” she said.
To learn more about the Parapan American Games, or to see how Abbey Nardella does, visit https://www.paralympic.org/lima-2019.