Para athlete Kira Stevens encourages swimmers to sign up to Endurance Swim Challenge

Multi-sport para athlete Kira Stevens is encouraging swimmers to take part in the Endurance Swim Challenge – completing 100, 200, 300, 500 or 1,000 miles in 2023. Here she tells us about her own experience of completing the challenge and her future paralympic ambitions.

Kira Stevens was born weighing two pounds, three ounces and with less than a one percent chance of survival. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy, doctors told her parents she would never walk, talk, eat or even get dressed on her own. Eighteen years later, Kira has defied all odds and has become the current US Paralympic National Champion for the 2022 100 metres, with a previous World Record for the 1,500 metres. 

Now she is encouraging people to take part in the Endurance Swim Challenge – which challenges people to choose to swim 100, 200, 300, 500 or 1,000 miles in 2023. Hosted by Gulf Coast Multi-Sport, the annual Endurance Swim Challenge is open to athletes of all ages and abilities. Individuals can choose to swim 100, 200, 300, 500 or 1,000 miles or team up with friends to attempt the 500- or 1,000-mile distances. Money raised will help Kira to travel to the Junior Nationals, a World Grand Prix event and an international event in Europe.

Kira has participated in the Endurance Swim Challenge for the past three years, completing 100 miles in the first year and over 100 miles as part of a team in 2021. Here, she tells us about her experience of the Endurance Swim Challenge and her paralympic ambitions… 

How did it feel to complete your first 100 miles, three years ago?

Completing 100 miles at any age is a huge accomplishment and I love to see everyone attempt and complete this challenge. Three years ago, when I first completed 100 miles, I was ecstatic. As a person with mild cerebral palsy, I try to push my body to the extreme. I was also around a very supportive triathlon team that pushed me to be my best. Since my team was already doing this challenge – and my mum organised it – I thought it would be really fun to join in on the madness. 

What were the challenges you’ve faced when attempting these endurance swims, and how did you overcome them?

One of the biggest challenges I’ve had to overcome with these endurance swims is time. There are only 24 hours in a day and as a student and a multi-sport athlete. I have to manage my time wisely – which does not come easy. There are days when we (my family and I) go to the pool in the morning and then I immediately have to go to school (online). Although this is crazy, I am really grateful to have the opportunity to do both athletics and school. I am currently a dual enrolment student about to graduate high school with my associates degree – it gets really hectic when I’m in my competition season.

Please can you tell us more about your paralympic aspirations – which events are you hoping to enter? How will funds from the 2023 Endurance Swim Challenge help support your goals?

My long term goal is to make the 2024 Paralympic track team and go to the Paralympics in France. I have been competing in track and field for seven years and this has really been a dream of mine – to compete on an international stage. I currently have swimming times to be on the Paralympic US Emerging Team for track and field. This has been something I have been working on for years and I am so excited to see where this dream takes me. 

Swimming is a really great cross training exercise and it really helps when I have an injury and I can’t run or if my knees hurt, swimming (especially in cold water) is a great way to recover. My family and I have been trying to raise funds for my athletic endeavours by doing this challenge, selling T-shirts, and selling swim caps to help monetise my career.

How does outdoor swimming make you feel?

Swimming outside in general is a great way to experience the sport. I am so lucky that I get to live in an area where I can swim outside. I love to swim in the springs, for example, my family and I frequently swim down this 3.5 mile river. That is about 72°F (22ºC) all year round. After a run that weekend, or after a big training exercise, it feels amazing to jump into cold water and swim your heart out. 

Follow Kira Stevens via her Instagram. Find out more about the Endurance Swim Challenge 2023. The host’s preferred method for tracking distance is through the Garmin Connect app. Once you register for the event, you will receive a link to the event’s private Facebook group and the Garmin challenge.

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Jo is the Gear Editor for Outdoor Swimmer and also writes news and features for the website. A keen open water swimmer and long-distance walker, she loves seeking out lakes and lidos close to her home in the Mendip Hills, Somerset. She is the author of The Slow Traveller, editor and founder of independent magazine, Ernest, and has previously tested outdoor clothing and kit for BBC Countryfile Magazine, BBC Focus and Ernest Journal.