Georgia teen loses vision, becomes Paralympian

By: WSB Community

GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. – Fifteen-year-old McClain Hermes is training to make a splash in the 2016 Paralympic Games. The Georgia native is competing on the US Paralympics Swim Team in multiple events. As a child, a rare condition caused both of Hermes’ retinas to detach, resulting in four emergency surgeries.

“One of the surgeries failed, so I see nothing out of my right eye,” McClain said. “I see out of a hole... about the size of a coffee stirrer straw in my left eye.”

Her vision continues to diminish, and doctors anticipate she will completely blind within the year.

“I’ve turned my disability into my ability,” McClain said. “Bad things have happened to me, but you can’t let that hold you down if you have something that you love.”

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The 10th grader has been swimming for eleven years and has learned to adapt her favorite sport to her changing needs. While training and competing, McClain has a "tapper," someone who taps their head with a long soft-ended pole as she approaches the end of the lane.

“It really means a lot to me that I’m able to represent my country as the youngest member of Team USA, and hopefully inspire other kids to do the same,” McClain said.

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The high school student credits her family and coaches for being her biggest support throughout her swimming career. The Paralympic athlete is also a philanthropist. Both McClain and her father, Matt Hermes, founded Shoes for the Souls. The nonprofit collects shoes and donates them to the Atlanta Mission, a homeless shelter in the heart of the city. In the last six years, the family has donated 15,000 pairs of shoes.