As Cailin Currie does freestyle laps in the YMCA pool in Beverly, she keeps a running count in her head.
"Yeah, so I count my strokes so that I know — mostly, I know when the wall is approaching," she said.
That’s because Currie is visually impaired, and the count helps her keep track so she knows when to start a kick turn.
Currie is representing the United States in the 400-meter freestyle competition at the Paralympic Games this week in Tokyo.
She’s been swimming competitively since she was eight years old.
"I feel like I have more control in the water,” she said. “I don't have to 100% see what I'm doing and where I'm going. I can kind of feel what I'm doing. Whereas you can't really do that on land."
Currie was born with a condition called aniridia, which impairs her sight.
"So it's somewhat or a complete loss of the iris, which is the color part of the eye,” she explained. “When I was first born, I didn't have any sight at all, and I gained some, but not all, sight at around a year old."
When she was still in high school, she competed in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio, which she calls one of the best experiences of her life.
"The best part of it was probably walking out and having the announcer announce everyone's names and countries and having all the crowd cheering," she said.
She knew then she wanted to compete at that level again.
But in 2020, before the qualifying races were held, the Games were postponed because of the pandemic.
"I wasn't totally surprised because of what was going on around us,” she said. "But I wasn't really sure what that would mean for the next year, and how that would change everything."
Currie wound up stopping her classes at Merrimack College, so she was no longer training with her college team. But she did what she could to stay in shape, including virtual workouts with her gym.
When the YMCA in Beverly opened back up after being closed for months, she signed up and began training with a team there. But the pandemic made it hard to get enough pool time.
"They had very strict rules about how long the pool was open, as well as how many people could swim per lane and exactly how long you were allowed to be in the water for," she said.
But at least she was back in the water.
The qualifying races for the rescheduled 2021 Paralympic Games were held in Minneapolis in June.
Three days of intense competition passed, with the U.S. team set to be announced the following day. Currie really wasn't sure she'd make it, so she was ready to leave.
"I was actually at the airport when they made the announcement, but I hadn't gotten on my flight yet," Currie said.
There in the airport, she found out on a Zoom call on her phone: She was going to Tokyo. The swimmers who made the team were staying in Minneapolis for a training camp, so she changed her flight and turned around to get back in the pool.
"I was really excited," she said. "I was kind of shocked at first, but I was very excited."
Currie races in a category with other swimmers who, like her, are visually impaired but have some ability to see.
This will be a very different Paralympics than the one Currie went to in Rio. For one thing, because of the pandemic, spectators aren't allowed, so there won't be that roaring crowd she loved so much.
"I've competed in a few local YMCA meets without spectators, but this is definitely not the same as that," she said. "So it'll be different."
Different — but still great.
"I'm ready and excited to go," Currie said.