Trischa Zorn-Hudson was born with Aniridia, an eye disorder that results in a lack of development of the iris in a person’s eye. In Zorn-Hudson’s case, that meant blindness.
“When I was young, my parents were both told that I would probably end up in an institution and have to be dependent on people,” she said.
As it turns out, Zorn-Hudson had other plans, which included becoming the most decorated Olympic/Paralympic athlete in history. During a 24-year swimming career spanning seven Paralympic Games, Zorn-Hudson captured 55 medals, including 41 gold medals. By herself, Zorn-Hudson’s total is more than the cumulative Paralympic medals earned by more than 120 nations around the world.
Zorn-Hudson is the featured subject of Episode 2 of Foresight, non-profit organization Alphapointe’s online program that launched in 2022. Hosted by Alphapointe Director of Public Policy Scott Thornhill, Foresight aims to explore the past, present and future of vision loss through engaging and insightful discussions with changemakers in the blindness community.
In the episode, Zorn-Hudson covers a number of subjects, including the challenges she faced in the education system as a child, coming within 1/100th of a second of making the U.S. Olympic Team, serving as an international advocate for athletes with disabilities and much more. Zorn-Hudson was a leading voice in rectifying the imbalance in the treatment of Paralympic athletes compared to Olympic athletes, which originally included a lack of facilities and a lack of overall support from governing bodies.
“After we finally gained the right to train in the same facilities as Olympic athletes, our first practice session was unbelievable,” Zorn-Hudson said. “They had three lifeguards on duty and the pool was configured to 25 yards because they didn’t know if we could swim 50 meters. Our response was, ‘Oh my Lord, how could you think that?’ We moved forward and put the ask out there as a way to demonstrate what we were capable of doing as well as to let them know the types of things they didn’t need to do in order to accommodate us. Those actions turned the program totally around.”
During her decorated career that began at the 1980 Paralympic Games in The Netherlands, Zorn-Hudson had a stretch of 12 years from those games until the 1992 games in Barcelona in which she didn’t lose a single race and captured 25 consecutive gold medals in various events. At the age of 40, Zorn-Hudson competed in the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens shortly after her mother had passed away from cancer and captured a bronze medal in the 100m backstroke – her 55th medal. Zorn-Hudson won more medals during her career than renowned athletes such as Michael Phelps, Jackie-Joyner Kersee, Jesse Owens – more than any athlete ever.
“Those people are icons,” she said. “They’re people that we aspired to be. Winning more medals than people like them is something that I still can’t really imagine. It’s something that’s untouchable to me.”
Zorn-Hudson was enshrined in the International Paralympic Hall of Fame in 2012 and inducted into the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame in 2022. Through 2022, Zorn-Hudson still held the world record in the 200m backstroke as well as three Paralympic Games records (200m backstroke, 200m breaststroke, 400m individual medley) and seven American records (three individual events, four relays).
A graduate of the University of Nebraska, Zorn-Hudson was the first physically disabled athlete to secure a full-ride Division I scholarship. Zorn-Hudson also earned her law degree from the University of Indiana and now works for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Indianapolis where she works to ensure that veterans obtain care they are entitled to receive.
Episode No. 2 of Foresight is available via Alphapointe’s website, YouTube channel and podcast.
The first Foresight episode that featured former New York Governor David Paterson debuted in July 2022 and has been viewed more than 2,000 times across various platforms for a total of more than 25,000 minutes of watch time by viewers in 10 different countries and more than 25 U.S. states.
For more information, visit alphapointe.org/foresight.