Swimming Past Adversity: Key to continuing Recovery and 2012 Paralympic Games
When faced with adversity, most people will fight until they fail to overcome it or give up in the process.
That's not the case for Veronica Cappalonga.
Cappalonga, 26, has been through so much adversity and pain that most people would ask the heavens, "When will it end!" Cappalonga, on the other hand, is not like most people.
At the age of six, Cappalonga was diagnosed with Leukemia and underwent treatment to contain the cancer and has since been in remission. After overcoming the disease, Cappalonga continued with her life, even being able to attend a university in San Diego and compete in their swimming program.
All the joyous accomplishments seemed to diminish in October 2005 when Cappalonga started feeling dizzy, forcing her family to take her out of the university and into a hospital under intensive care.
Not realizing that it was more than just a headache, the Cappalonga family was in utter shock when finding out that their eldest daughter of four children had two tumors in her brain.
The first tumor, as explained to the Cappalongas, was located in the back of her head with the second being located on the side.
As a result of the tumors and the subsequent surgery that followed it, where only 75 percent could be taken out, Cappalonga quickly lost her motor skills throughout the entire right side of her body.
With the help of her parents, Rocio and Guisepe Sr., the support of her siblings, Giovanni, Giuseppe Jr., Gina and their families, Cappalonga went into recovery mode through several treatments including physical therapy.
Still unable to gain mobility in her arms and legs Cappalonga started seeking for other ways to recover from her disability.
Then, as the summer approached last year, Cappalonga decided to swim again in her efforts to heal.
"She was motivated to swim after seeing a profile of a swimmer from the Paralympics in Beijing on the television and saw how this swimmer was able to recover and compete there," said Rocio Cappalonga. "After seeing that, her goal was to compete in the next Paralympics."
Following the footsteps of her siblings, Cappalonga started attending Santa Monica College and training with a person who she credits "like a part of [my] family" in her swimming coach and Chair of the Athletics and Kinesiology Department, Anna Collier.
"At first, she wasn't even able to lift her (right) arm to swim," Collier said. "She could barely move."
With time and practice, Cappalonga showed her true warrior like colors and slowly started to gain some motor skills in her body.
Seeing that she was getting better, stronger and more mobile, Cappalonga continued training more and even deciding to compete in a series of swim meets that, if completed successfully, can earn her a rare spot at the next Paralympic Games that will be held in London in 2012.
"She decided she wanted to compete (in the meet) and when we got there, we were in total awe and [shed] tears of joy, happiness and pride for her," Rocio Cappalonga said.
During her entire training with Collier at SMC, Cappalonga used a flotation device in the pool to assist her swimming. However, when it came time to swim at the meet, the assisting device could not be used.
"I told her, ‘You can't use it to swim here,' and with [little] hesitation, Veronica got into the pool and started to compete without it," said Collier.
Not only did she swim without the device but also was able to place in the top two spots in two of the three races she competed in.
"It was amazing, I was so proud of her," Collier said.
Cappalonga credits the support of her family and friends for giving her the strength to achieve all that she has under the circumstances that she lives with.
Gina Cappalonga, 20 and the "baby of the family," could not be more proud of her sister.
"She really is an inspiration to me," said Gina Cappalonga. "Since she's my older sister, I look up to her and seeing everything that's she gone through really made me and the rest of the family a lot closer."
Cappalonga will continue in achieving her dream to compete in the upcoming Paralympics when she'll attend another swim meet this July.
"Veronica has really inspired all her family and friends and supporters [to have] more strength and to see that you can still accomplish things in life…by taking one step at a time.