Life after Gold: Checking In with Michelle Konkoly

It’s been almost a year since the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and since then, I’ve received a lot of questions about what I’m doing next. “Starting to train for Tokyo already?” The next Paralympic Games, Tokyo 2020, are still more than three years away, but many of my teammates are already getting ready.  After I had such a successful competition in Rio, proving to myself and the world that I am a talented competitor, it may seem strange to some that I am instead pursuing an entirely different path over the next four years – medical school.

This certainly wasn’t an impulse decision. Actually, I applied and was accepted to medical school three years ago, while I was still an undergraduate student. I have wanted to be a doctor for as long as I can remember, and seeing the power of medicine firsthand after my accident  solidified this career path for me. Once I realized what it would take to compete in Rio, however, I decided to defer med school for a few years to focus on swimming. Well, those years are up and it’s time to begin! A few weeks ago, I traded in my cap and goggles for a white coat at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University here in Philadelphia.

Michelle visited Magee patients after Rio to show off her medals: 2 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze

I am so thrilled to be back in my home state, and even more excited to be at Jefferson. Even in just our first few weeks, it has become clear how the Jefferson Health System values so much more than memorizing medical knowledge. They see patients as people, not just cases or numbers on a page. This mentality was evident to me while I was a patient, and I am honored to be carrying on this tradition as a medical professional as well.

Does this mean I’m done with swimming forever? I’m leaving that question open for now. The process of training for the Paralympics was one of the most challenging, inspiring, and rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. I know what it takes to get to the top: absolute dedication, and I know that full-time training is just not compatible with medical school. My plan is to stay in shape. Exercise will always be an important part of my life. I will re-evaluate how I feel about competing as Tokyo gets closer. I loved pouring my whole self into swimming, but I am ready and excited to pour my whole self into medical school. Right now, I can’t predict how hungry I will be in a few years to compete on the world’s largest stage again.

In any case, I know that the lessons I’ve learned from elite swimming will surely carry over to my experience as a medical student and eventually a physician. My Paralympic teammates never cease to inspire me, and I hope to become a pediatrician working with kids with disabilities and help them achieve their full potential. The Road to Rio may be over, but the next journey is just beginning!

Paralympic swimmer and former Magee patient Michelle Konkoly has written about her journey to the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in a blog series called ‘Road to Rio.’ For more on Michelle’s story, click here

Photo: Michelle with her family at the White Coat Ceremony, marking the beginning of medical school at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University 

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