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‘Every swimmer dreams of representing their country’: Miami first-year to compete at 2023 Parapan American Games

<p>At three years old, Carson Bruner was fighting for his life due to a rare bacterial infection. In 2023, he will represent the United States as a swimmer in The Parapan American Games.</p>

At three years old, Carson Bruner was fighting for his life due to a rare bacterial infection. In 2023, he will represent the United States as a swimmer in The Parapan American Games.

Most 3-year-olds spend their time learning colors and shapes, participating in sports their parents placed them in and just learning to count. When Miami University first-year biochemistry major Carson Bruner was three years old, he fought for his life. 

Bruner was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis, a rare bacterial infection that destroys tissue under the skin and travels through the bloodstream, causing necrosis in the muscles. The infection destroyed muscles in Bruner’s legs, resulting in his right foot needing to be amputated. 

“I was in rough shape for about three months,” Bruner said. “I was on a ventilator, on dialysis and my kidneys failed. I was in a coma for most of it, and I almost died.”

Defying the odds, Bruner made a full recovery, learning to live with his new disability. Nearly 15 years later, Bruner will represent his country at the 2023 Parapan American Games from Nov. 17 to Nov. 26 in Santiago, Chile, as a member of the U.S. Paralympic Swim Team. 

Before Bruner was asked to wear the red, white and blue uniform, he joined a more local swim team. Chris McKinney, head coach of the Miami University Aquatic Club Makos, never had a para-swimmer on the team before.

“It’s really my first experience of getting into the para side of swimming and the knowledge base of it,” McKinney said. “I’m mostly just trying to keep him on the right track to reach his goals.”

Bruner discovered his love of swimming like many others have: as a member of his local pool’s summer team. 

“My sister was already on the team, and I really got into it because of her,” Bruner said. “The next year I started doing club swimming, and it just took off from there.”

Bruner competed year-round with the WTRC Sharks swim team, based out of Centerville, Ohio. When he was nine years old, he swam his first 500-meter freestyle and discovered his love for distance swimming. At a meet in Cincinnati, Bruner was introduced to the world of US Paralympics swimming by one of his first coaches, putting him on the radar of national officials.

His swim journey continued into high school, where the “firsts” came in waves.

“With the help of a lot of people on the organizational side, I was the first para-swimmer to compete at the district and state levels,” Bruner said. “It truly was a blessing and a testament to the people that championed para-swimming at the state level.”

The experiences with U.S. Para-Swimming continued for Bruner. After making the roster of the organization’s emerging team in high school, the team invited him to their facilities in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in October 2022.  In April 2023, Bruner received the news he had been waiting for. 

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“I got the call that I had been named to the national C-team, and it was a huge honor,” Bruner said. “I went out for national team camp this past summer and it was an amazing experience.”

USA Paralympics operates on a tiered team structure, with the A-team featuring the best swimmers followed by the B and C-teams. At national team camp, Bruner strived to make his presence felt and show he could bring home medals if given the chance. 

His hard work at camp paid off. This past September, U.S. Paralympic Swimming announced its roster of 33 athletes for the 2023 Parapan American Games, and Bruner had made the cut. 

The Parapan American Games have occurred every four years since 1999 and feature a village-like living space for athletes, similar to the Olympics. The trip will mark the first time Bruner has traveled internationally.

“It’s a little nerve-wracking, but it’s gonna be cool,” Bruner said. “I don’t really know what to expect, but I’m really excited to go. Every swimmer dreams of representing their country and repping the flag on their swim cap.”

Looking to the future, Bruner plans on continuing to pursue opportunities with U.S. Paralympics Swimming. In the meantime, he’ll take care of his schoolwork at Miami. Eventually, he hopes to pursue medical school and become a physician.

McKinney hasn’t known Bruner for long, but he has noticed his intense work ethic.

“He gets in and grinds every day,” McKinney said. “He knows that his goals for the next five years require doing the work today. Coach Dave and coach Evan with the WTRC Sharks really prepared him, they baked the cake so to speak.”

The 2023 Parapan American Games begin on Nov. 17 in Santiago, Chile. Bruner will participate in the 400-meter freestyle, where he hopes to bring home a medal for his country.