Anastasia Pagonis Won Team USA's First Gold Medal at the Tokyo Paralympics In Record-Breaking Fashion

The 17-year-old swimmer later took to TikTok to celebrate her gold medal win.

Photo: Getty Images

Team USA is off to an impressive start at the Tokyo Paralympics — with 12 medals and counting — and 17-year-old Anastasia Pagonis has added the first piece of gold hardware to America's growing collection.

The New York native competed in Thursday's 400-meter freestyle S11. She not only secured the top spot in the race but beat her previous world record (4:56.16) after clocking in at 4:54.49, according to NBC Sports. Lisette Bruinsma of the Netherlands placed second with a time of 5:05.34, followed by Cai Liwen of China in third at 5:07.56.

Pagonis, who is blind, took part in the S11 competition, a sports class designated for athletes with visual impairment, specifically those who have a very low visual acuity and/or no light perception, according to the Paralympics. Swimmers competing in this sports class are required to wear blackened goggles to ensure a fair competition.

Ahead of Thursday's event, however, Pagonis struggled emotionally after her swimsuit broke before a heat. "I had a panic attack and I started crying because my suit ripped. And things happen, things go wrong, that's just part of being a human. Kind of just rolling with the punches is something that I have a hard time with, especially in very stressful circumstances so yeah I knew, like, hey, if I can't get this suit on, I'm not swimming. I'm not going to push to make myself even more stressed out to get my suit on so that I can't swim the rest of my races," she said, according to the Paralympic Games' official website. "You have to set boundaries for yourself and I think that's super important." (

Pagonis added Thursday that "mental health is 100 percent of the game," adding, "if you're not mentally there then you're not there at all, and you're not going to be able to race." (See: The Mental Health Rituals That Help Simone Biles Stay Motivated)

Following her historic rout in Tokyo on Thursday, Pagonis took to TikTok — where she has a causal two million followers — to show off her gold medal. In the video, Pagonis is seen dancing while holding her gold medal. "Not sure how to feel," she captioned the clip. (

A childhood soccer player, Pagonis was able to see until the age of 9 before her vision began to fade. Two years later, she was originally diagnosed with Stargardt macular degeneration, a rare disorder of the retina, the tissue at the back of the eye that senses light, according to the National Eye Institute. She was later diagnosed with a genetic condition and autoimmune retinopathy, according to Team USA's official website, which also affects the retina. In recent years, Pagonis turned to social media to combat stereotypes associated with the visually impaired.

"I'm not going to be what people think blindness is where they can't do anything, they can't dress nice, they can't wear makeup," she said, according to Team USA's official website. "I'm not going to be that person. So I was like, hmmm, let me make me as badass as possible."

Today, Pagonis is breaking records in the pool and will have the chance to scoop up even more medals for Team USA when she competes in Friday's 50-meter freestyle, Monday's 200-meter individual medley, and next Friday's 100-meter freestyle.

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