There must be something in the Evansville water. First, Lilly King swims to Olympic glory, and now Mikaela Jenkins is mining for gold in the pool.
"I think it's really neat," said Jenkins.
"It's incredibly unique," said Newburgh Sea Creatures Swim Club head coach Aaron Opell.
"This town and especially from the same school and from the same club program," said Jenkins, "has had an Olympian, but now has a Paralympian."
Delayed for a year by Coronavirus, a week after fellow Reitz alum Lilly King locked up her spot on the U-S Olympic team, 18 year-old Mikaela Jenkins would not be denied, qualifying for the U-S Paralympic team at the swimming trials in Minneapolis.
"It was definitely a sense of relief," said Jenkins, "just because four years is hard enough in between games to train, so an extra year definitely took a toll on every athlete. So, just knowing that I finally finished, I can focus on just training and getting ready for games, I just felt really happy."
Jenkins didn't just qualify, she dominated, as she earned the right to compete in the 100 Meter Breaststroke, the 100 Meter Butterfly, the 200 Meter Individual Medley,as well as the 400 Meter Freestyle, with the possibility of being on the U-S relay teams. Jenkins success comes as no surprise to her Newburgh Sea Creatures coach Aaron Opell, who also helped develop future gold medalist Lilly King.
"There are a lot of traits that successful swimmers and successful individuals," said Opell, "for that matter, possess, and she has plenty of those. I think the one thing she does exceptionally well is she simply shows up and she'll get the work done, whereas with a lot of people, sometimes that's a battle. If you ask her to do something, she's going to get the job done."
And that work ethic came to Mikaela at an early age. Born with one femur longer than the other and a subluxed hip, she had to undergo major surgery in the first year of her life.
"In order to not be wheelchair-bound," said Jenkins, "since I have a really good knee, they amputated my foot when I was eight months old, so I could learn to walk on a prosthetic."
And while that prosthetic allows Mikaela to remain independent, it's in the pool, where she excels and experiences a freedom she's never known on dry land.
"The leg I have right now is definitely the nicest leg I've ever owned and it's very comfortable," said Jenkins, "but wearing a prosthetic is definitely a lot more painful than normal legs, so it's nice to just take it off and be able to not think about it for a little bit."
And that freedom has led her to the pinnacle of competitive paralympic swimming, taking gold in the World Championships in 2019. She credits Lilly King and Lilly's mother Ginny for helping her get there. And Mikaela will be following in Lilly's footsteps, literally, when she arrives in Tokyo a week after her, to compete in the Paralympic Games. a prospect she's both nervous an excited about.
"It will definitely be very intense," said Jenkins, "I think is a good way to describe it. It's highly emotional, those two weeks, because they're are a lot of high highs and a lot of lows. And also there's watching your teammates and how well they do, but I think it's important to remind yourself that you're there to win and you're there to race your best, and you need to focus on yourself and put aside everything else that is going on in that venue and in that pool and just focus on that race."
And with plenty of races to strike gold in, Mikaela's chances for a medal are high.
"She's good. Heck, she won a gold medal in the World Championships, said Opel, "the last worlds champ that we had. So, you've got a gold medalist in here and from southern Indiana. So another one that we've got, so she's definitely a contender for gold in Tokyo."
"Definitely would be a dream come true and I would love to defend my 2019 World Championship medal," said Jenkins.