Emma Preuschl won a silver medal in rowing in the 2008 Paralympic Games in China with three crew members.
She will be seeking another medal in the 2012 Paralympic Games, which begin Wednesday in London with opening ceremonies, but this time she will have a whole new crew.
One of her new crew members will be Andrew Johnson, who trains with Preuschl in the Boathouse District on the Oklahoma River. Both were selected to be members of the United States' adaptive four team with coxswain.
“I want to medal again,” said Preuschl, a native of Indianapolis. “I feel like I have to defend the medal I got last time.”
For Johnson, a native of Greenwich, Conn., it will be his first time in the Paralympics.
“I have been working for this a long time,” he said. “Getting to go to London feels pretty good.”
Johnson, 22, is blind. He was born with the rare disorder called Leber's congenital amaurosis.
“I can see a brightness and darkness of a room but no color or shape or shadows,” Johnson said.
Preuschl, 27, has Erbs Palsy of the brachial plexus, a nerve injury that happened at birth when the doctor delivering her pulled her from the birth canal. It compromises muscle function and Preuschl's ability to grasp, extend and reach with her left arm.
“My left arm is about four inches shorter than my right,” she said. “My elbow doesn't extend fully. My bicep stays in contraction. That's because the nerves are not properly functioning.”
Preuschl was introduced by rowing at age 14 by her aunt in Wisconsin and became hooked on it. When it was time to go to college, she only applied to universities with rowing programs.
She attended Purdue and rowed four years for the university crew. In her fifth year at Purdue, she was coaching the women's novice team when she was recruited for the U.S. National Paralympic team.
A Paralympic coach had read a story about Preuschl having Erbs Palsy.
“I didn't realize that I qualified to be a disabled athlete,” Preuschl said. “I never thought of myself as that.”
Johnson also has been rowing since he was 14. His inspiration was not an aunt, but a young girl that he liked who was interested in rowing.
“Isn't that the motivation for everything when you are a 14-year-old guy?” he said.
The girl he had a crush on didn't continue rowing, but Johnson discovered he could make boats go fast.
“It was really a great sport for me and I loved it,” Johnson said.
After failing to qualify for the U.S. National Team on two previous tries, Johnson made it for the first time in 2009. He believes that his blindness actually works in his favor when he is rowing with a crew.
“In some ways, blindness has been an advantage for me because I have to go by what I am feeling in the boat,” he said. “Some people tell me their vision is actually a distraction. I take my blindness as something of a blessing in that regard.”
Both Preuschl and Johnson moved to Oklahoma City after the Oklahoma River became a U.S. Olympic and Paralympic training site for rowing.
They believe their boat is fast enough to win a medal in London. Preuschl said her current crew is faster than the U.S. boat that she was on in 2008, which won a silver medal, but every country has improved.
“Our time from four years ago would be eighth place this year,” she said. “That's how much the competition has gotten better. Every country is faster than they were last year. It's anyone's race, but I feel our crew is really fast. I feel good about that.”
Johnson is confident the U.S. crew can not only medal, but win the gold medal.
“We have a lot of speed this year,” he said. “We are going in looking for that gold medal spot and pretty confident it is within our reach. “