Many superstar athletes are known for their quirky pregame rituals. Michael Jordan of the six-time NBA champion Chicago Bulls wore his University of North Carolina shorts under his uniform. Hall of Fame third baseman Wade Boggs ate chicken and fielded exactly 117 ground balls in warm-up.
Kelley Becherer, a legally blind Paralympic champion of Northeastern’s swimming and diving team, harbors her own rather unusual superstition: writing the name and date of her big matches on a poster of American swimmer Natalie Coughlin and then tapping it for good luck.
“I win medals every time I do this,” says the 22-year-old Sheboygan, Wisc., native, who’s been writing and tapping before she leaves for a match for seven years, “but I never win when I forget.”
Becherer carries the poster of the 12-time Olympic medalist with her. She hung it in her dorm room during the London 2012 Paralympic Games and then swam her way to four medals of her own—gold in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle and bronze in the 100-meter breaststroke and 200-meter individual medley.
Mounting the podium to receive the shiny hardware is “a surreal experience unlike anything else,” she explains. “You can’t believe that you’re hearing the national anthem being played for you.”
“I want to say it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Becherer jokes, “but it’s happened three times now.” She also competed at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games when she was just 13 years old and won three medals in 2008 in Beijing.
She started swimming at age six, while growing up in a family of athletes. Her mom swam in high school, and her dad played college baseball. They cheered her on in London, imparting prescient advice. “Go for what you love and do what you believe in,” Becherer recalls them saying. “Do your best and make sure you’re having fun.”
Roy Coates, head coach of Northeastern’s swimming and diving team, praises the star athlete, whose 20/400 vision impedes her ability to gauge turns at the wall and keep an eye on her fellow swimmers. “Kelley is dedicated, disciplined, and determined,” he says. “She has made the decision to train hard and compete to win.”
Jason Kornwitz, AS’08, is a staff writer and editor.