Greenwood’s Nuhfer to represent USA at Paris Paralympics

“Spirit in motion” is the Paralympic motto. Fittingly, Grace Nuhfer has seldom stopped moving on her journey to this year’s games — a journey that is now set to end in Paris.

The 21-year-old Greenwood graduate, who now swims at the University of Akron, will be traveling to France to compete for Team USA in the 2024 Paralympic Games, which will run from Aug. 28 to Sept. 8. She was named to the team at the conclusion of the U.S. Paralympic swim trials in Minneapolis last weekend.

Born with a rare genetic condition that has rendered her legally blind with brittle cornea syndrome, Nuhfer is swimming under an S13 classification, the least severe vision impariment eligible for the Paralympics.

“Once they finally said my name during the private team naming ceremony and then again during the public team naming ceremony where we got our tickets, and our Team USA hats and shirts, I just kept thinking of how grateful I was and how far I’ve come individually as a person and as an athlete,” she said. “It’s just so cool to see all of that come to this now. It’s just amazing to think about.”

Nuhfer had a monster trials, winning the 100-meter butterfly in a time of 1:05.07 while also finishing second in a pair of events (100 backstroke, 400 freestyle) and third in two more (200 individual medley, 50 free).

The qualifying procedure for the Paralympic team, though, isn’t the same as it was for the Olympic team that was largely self-selected in Indianapolis last month; winning at the trials didn’t guarantee Nuhfer a spot. Among the criteria was comparing a swimmer’s best time in their best event with the third-ranked time in the world — a process that allowed swimmers to be compared across events and determine who might have the best chance to bring home a medal if chosen.

Having hit the individual qualifying standard in all of the events she swam at the trials, Nuhfer felt she’d have had “a fighting chance” to make the team without her performance in the 100 fly, but that swim effectively secured her place. But she wasn’t taking anything for granted until she found out for sure.

“The whole weekend was a big numbers game. There were coaches and athletes all over the deck trying to crunch the numbers and do the math,” Nuhfer said. “After I did my 100 fly, I was told by a few people that I should be okay, but it’s one of those things that, I didn’t want to put all of my faith into that, just because you never know what could happen. A lot of athletes were having amazing weeks, and it was so fun to watch, so I didn’t want to 100% count myself in.”

Nuhfer isn’t certain yet what her lineup will look like in Paris, but she feels pretty good about her chances to compete in all five of her trials events.

The former Woodmen star had proven her international bona fides by winning a silver medal in the 50 freestyle at the Parapan American Games last November in Chile. She traveled with Team USA to compete in Italy this March and also wore the national cap at the IU Natatorium in April, winning the 100 freestyle and 100 butterfly at the Citi Para Swimming World Series.

Her previous experiences with international travel have made Nuhfer far less nervous about this next overseas adventure.

“It’s something I feel a lot more confident in and excited,” she said. “I feel like I’m going to be able to enjoy the moment and stay present and just have a really awesome time with all my teammates.”

Meanwhile, Nuhfer’s teammates at Akron have been her biggest cheerleaders.

When she returned from the trials this week, her roommates were there at midnight to scoop her up at the airport, blasting Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA” on the car ride back to campus.

“It’s actually been the sweetest thing,” Nuhfer said. “My team here is so supportive; it’s like a group of 30 best friends having your back.”

Nuhfer doesn’t have much time to relax and soak in the moment — she’s going to have to stay in motion.

Team USA will get together again on July 21 for a weeklong preparatory camp at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Then, Nuhfer will spend some time working out at the University of Northern Iowa with fellow S13 swimmer Olivia Chambers before taking part in a second team prep camp in Germany and then trekking to Paris.

While she’s fully embracing it all, Nuhfer also considers being on the move so much a little “bittersweet.”

“I’m definitely going to miss it here in Akron,” she said. “Back home in Greenwood is a little different, because I’ve been living at school so I’m used to being gone from home for a while. And my family will be in Paris with me, so … that’ll be awesome. But being away from Akron, and my teammates and my roommates and our dog for that long, it’s definitely going to be a struggle.”

Nuhfer, a business data analytics major set to graduate next spring, will miss the first two weeks of the semester but will be able to keep up with her coursework while also (she hopes) finding time to take in some notable Parisian sites.

At the top of her list is the Monet Gardens in nearby Giverny, a place she says would be a “dream come true to visit.”

“My mom and I, I’ve grown up sharing her love for art,” Nuhfer said, “so I would be super stoked to visit a bunch of art museums. And more specifically, we love Claude Monet.”

She’d also be stoked to earn a gold medal — a goal that’s actually in play. Nuhfer clocked a 1:03.82 in the 100 butterfly this spring, the second-fastest time in the world this year behind Italy’s Carlotta Gilli (1:03.64). The possibility of those two racing side by side in a Paralympic final certainly exists.

Nuhfer is excited about the opportunity to test herself against the best para swimmers in the world.

“I’m excited to see what we can throw down,” she said.

Spirit in motion.