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‘It feels surreal’: Hopewell native gears up for Tokyo Paralympics

Published: Jul. 23, 2021 at 6:47 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 23, 2021 at 6:59 PM EDT
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HOPEWELL, Va. (WWBT) - While all eyes are on Tokyo right now for the Olympics, a group of Virginians from Hopewell to Fredericksburg are looking forward to the Paralympics kicking off in August.

Athletes are training for it right now across the United States, including Hopewell’s Joey Peppersack.

Peppersack barely missed making it onto Team USA for the Rio Paralympics, but he made it this time, and he is ready for the gold when it comes to swimming.

The 22-year-old barely having time to come up for air and enjoy the moment. Immediately after finding out he got picked for Tokyo, Peppersack packed up his things and headed out to Colorado Springs, Colorado for more training.

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“It feels surreal,” he said. “This has been a dream for me ever since I was 8 years old swimming on my local summer swim team.”

It was at the Hopewell Community Center where Peppersack first learned how to swim. However, he had a different challenge compared to other kids.

“I was born without a tibia in my right leg which led to some other complications in the left leg,” Peppersack said.

At 4 years old, his right leg was amputated. Brad Flynn is the man who got Peppersack familiar with the water.

“He could swim but it was kind of circular, he didn’t know how to compensate for the lack of the leg,” Flynn said. “So, we worked on that, he got better and better, and we started adding in different strokes.”

Peppersack’s skills improving via his teams with Hopewell, NOVA South Swimming, and most recently, the University of Mary Washington.

All of it landing him in Minneapolis for the Paralympic swim trials last month.

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“I would go into every practice thinking ‘alright, I’m going to try my very best and see what happens,’” Peppersack said. “You do that enough times and you end up going to Tokyo or something. I don’t know, it just kind of came out of nowhere.”

However, that’s not how some of his coaches see it.

“He deserves it,” Flynn said getting emotional. “He’s just always positive. He never made excuses like a lot of people do these days. He just kept his nose down and just worked.”

“I get a little bit of a sense of freedom because I’m not confined to the same gravity as I am on land, and I get to take my leg off,” Peppersack said.

With the Paralympics one month away, Flynn believes Peppersack is someone kids will look up to.

“Hopefully, it will let some of these kids around here know - if this kid with one and a half legs from Hopewell, can make it to the highest level, why can’t I make it to the highest level,” Flynn said.

Meanwhile, Peppersack hasn’t lost sight of his support back home.

“I’ve been receiving so much support from everyone back at home, and I’m super grateful for all of it,” he said.

“Knock ‘em dead, Joey,” Flynn said.

According to the U.S. Paralympic website, Peppersack swims in the 50m Freestyle, 100m Freestyle, 100m Breaststroke and 100m Backstroke.

Peppersack won three gold medals at the 2017 Can-Am Open, a silver and bronze at the 2018 World Para Swimming Series, and two silvers and a bronze at the 2019 World Series.

Opening ceremonies for the Tokyo Paralympics is on Aug. 24, 2021.

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