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Beyond the Game: Double amputee swimmer shows physical, mental strength

JULIA GAFFNEY (KATV PHOTO).jpg

A local swimmer is preparing to compete in the 2016 Paralympic Trials in Charlotte.

But if you were to watch AquaKids Swim Team practice at Hendrix College in Conway, you might have a difficult time spotting which swimmer has a physical disability.

"If I don't tell you Julia doesn't have legs or Julia is a double amputee, you won't tell because she just stays up there with everybody and races them," said Tony Marleneanu, Julia's coach.

16-year-old Julia Gaffney was born without both legs. She tried softball, baseball and gymnastics when she was younger. No sport stuck like swimming.

"I've never known what it's like to have legs," Gaffney said.

"My shoulders do kind of get sore sometimes, but once I'm in the water, I feel free.

"I can't really run or jump. Sometimes it's hard to walk. In the water, I have more movement."

She began competitively swimming only about a year ago.

"Right away, she just picked it up so quick," Marleneanu said. "She's so talented and so strong. Her arms, chest and shoulders are so strong."

But Gaffney displays incredible mental toughness, as well. She hopes to be one of the toughest swimmers later this month in Charlotte.

"It's inspirational because you see her doing this and you want to put yourself in her shoes," Marleneanu said. "The things she can accomplish tells you, you can do so much more than what you've done."

"If I can do it, anyone else can do it," Gaffney said.

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