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Event Speaker

McKenzie Coan

McKenzie Coan is a professional swimmer, public speaker, disability advocate, and author.


McKenzie was diagnosed at just 19 days old with a condition called Osteogenesis Imperfecta, otherwise known as brittle bone disease. This condition causes Mckenzie’s bone to break easily, and as a result of this diagnosis, doctors said that McKenzie would never walk, never sit upright, never talk, and maybe not even live a very long life. However, McKenzie’s parents were determined to not have their daughter live a life dictated by other people’s expectations.

McKenzie’s journey in the water started with aqua therapy at four years old, and right away she discovered a sense of freedom that she had never felt before. McKenzie’s two brothers joined the swim team around the same time, and she quickly found herself intrigued to graduate aqua therapy in the baby pool and venture into the big kid lap lanes. McKenzie swam for the very first time on her own in order to qualify for swim team, and has never looked back since. She loved (and still do) the feeling of proving others wrong when she rolls up behind the blocks in her wheelchair.

When McKenzie was 8, she discovered the Paralympic Games and started her Paralympic swimming career. For the first time she found herself competing with others who had similar abilities. By the time she was 11, McKenzie qualified for Paralympic Trials as the youngest competitor at the meet. After just missing making the US Paralympic Team for the 2008 Beijing Games, McKenzie vowed to spend the next four years leading up to the next Paralympics giving everything she had to qualify.

Fast forward four years to 2012, making it through every obstacle along the way, McKenzie qualified for 2012 London Games by 0.11 of a second in the 400m freestyle, on her 16th birthday nonetheless! Her Paralympic dreams had finally come true. At her first Paralympic Games, McKenzie made it to finals, leaving with a 6th place finish. Already looking ahead to the next Games, McKenzie vowed yet again to spend the next four years preparing to not only re-qualify, but to make it to the podium for Team USA.

In 2016, McKenzie qualified for five events for the Rio Games. During competition, McKenzie won 3 golds and a silver. McKenzie recalls being on the podium in Rio, thinking back to the very beginning of her journey when her parents were only ever told of all the things she would never be able to accomplish.

At the 2020 Tokyo Games, she defended her title from Rio in the 400-meter freestyle and took second in the 100 free. 

She is an eight-time World Champion and two-time world recorder holder in the category S7 800-meeter and 1500-meeter freestyles. 

McKenzie publisher her first book, Breaking Free-Shattering Expectations and Thriving with Ambition in Pursuit of Gold, in 2021. The memoir explains why she believes her genetic condition happened for her - not to her - and how she lives an unexpectedly full life while performing at the top of her sport. 

McKenzie’s journey captures the very meaning of believing that anything is possible when you put your mind to it. Through every broken bone, every setback, every obstacle, McKenzie never lost hope.


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