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Diagnosed with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (brittle bone disease), McKenzie Coan was told that she would never walk or talk.

But at the Rio Olympics in 2016, McKenzie swam her way to three gold medals for Team U.S.A., stepping to the top of the podium for the 50m, 400m and 100m freestyle races and winning silver for the 4 x 100m relay.

Here’s how Paralympic swimmer McKenzie Coan dives deep to turn challenges into opportunities and bring home the gold.

1. Belief

When I was 19 days old, I was diagnosed with this bone condition. The doctors told my parents I would never sit, walk, talk.

The physical therapist told my parents, “You can put her on a shelf and shield her from the hard things in life or you can let her live.” That’s when everything really changed. Instilling the belief that I am just like everybody else is what sets me apart.

The first day that I got in the water for aqua therapy at four or five years old, other people stared at me. I’ve seen that stare before: the doubt in their eyes. My mom threw the life jacket off to the side and threw me in and that was it. I swam six laps without stopping.

What fuels me every day is proving people wrong.

2. Determination

When I get behind the blocks, I know that there’s nothing more I could have done. That gives me peace of mind so when the pressure is on I know I’m ready. It’s an incredible amount of work and it’s an incredible amount of pressure, but I thrive under that.

People ask me, “Aren’t you afraid that you’re going to break?” Yes, that’s a part of my life. I break but I get back up again and I keep going.

3. Triumph

My family is everything. They tell me I can do anything I put my mind to. When I’m standing on the podium with the gold medal around my neck, I imagine my family standing right there beside me. This is not a one-person show – it takes a village and it’s their gold medal just as much as mine.

Throughout my life people told me I would never be able to swim, that I’m too fragile. If anything, the challenges that I faced have actually been my biggest advantages. I welcome those challenges. They made me into the strong person I am today.

To anyone else facing obstacles, dream big and work hard. Do not let somebody else tell you what you’re capable of. There’s literally nothing stopping you – the only limitations that exist are the ones that you allow to exist.

Paralympic swimmer McKenzie Coan writes down the three words that help her excel.

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