As soon as Kelley Becherer popped her head out of the water, she looked toward the score­board. She couldn’t quite make out the results.

The 19-​​year-​​old She­boygan, Wisc., native, who is legally blind, had no idea she had just won a gold medal in the 50-​​meter freestyle at the 2008 Bei­jing Par­a­lympic games.

I couldn’t see the time on the board,” says Becherer, who will enter North­eastern as a freshman this fall. When she heard her name announced as the victor—her time, 27.85 sec­onds, bested the second-​​place finisher’s mark by three one-​​thousandths of a second—she was stunned.

She remem­bers: “I was like, ‘No way.’ Standing on the podium and get­ting the gold medal was unbe­liev­able. I couldn’t stop smiling.”

Becherer also com­peted at the 2004 Par­a­lympics, in Athens, when she was just 13 years old. Small wonder swim­ming and diving coach Roy Coates is thrilled to wel­come her to North­eastern, where she will com­pete in the 50– and 100-​​meter freestyle and back­stroke events. Her years of expe­ri­ence in national and inter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions will be a big boost for his squad, which last year fin­ished in eighth place at the Colo­nial Ath­letic Asso­ci­a­tion championship.

Not only is Kelley a very com­pet­i­tive ath­lete who trains hard, she’s been com­peting on the world stage and has been exposed to the best that United States swim­ming has to offer,” Coates explains. “She’ll bring a unique per­spec­tive to the women on the team who have not had that type of exposure.”

Over the past few years, Becherer has burned up the record books. Ear­lier this month, she set a Par­a­lympic world record in the 50-​​meter back­stroke at the Speedo CanAm Cham­pi­onships, in Edmonton, Alberta. She also snagged gold in the 100-​​meter but­terfly and back­stroke events.

To round out her gold-​​medal per­for­mance in Bei­jing, she took home bronze medals in the 100– and 400-​​meter freestyles. At the Inter­na­tional Par­a­lympic Com­mittee Cham­pi­onships in 2006, she earned a silver medal in the 100-​​meter back­stroke and bronze medals in the 100– and 400-​​meter freestyle.

Becherer says that being visu­ally impaired—she has 20/​400 vision—impacts her ability to gauge turns at the end wall and keep an eye on her fellow swim­mers (“I can’t see the com­pe­ti­tion unless we’re neck and neck” is how she describes it).

But it doesn’t limit her com­pet­i­tive­ness in any way. “I just go for it,” she says. “It doesn’t stop me from being on relay teams, and I haven’t found anyone who’s not accepting.”

Over the summer, she trained at a break­neck pace with the Ozaukee Aquatics Swim Club in Wis­consin, hit­ting the pool as many as 10 times per week.

Becherer comes from a family of ath­letes; her mother swam in high school, and her dad played col­lege base­ball. She started swim­ming young, at age 6. By the time she was 13, she was com­peting at the YMCA Spring Nationals in Florida.

I love com­peting and racing,” she says. “It sounds weird, but I like working through the pain and get­ting the best time. I love that feeling, espe­cially when you work so hard for it.”

Just weeks before she hits the water for her first North­eastern prac­tice, Becherer is excited but not ner­vous, she says. She’ll be ready for the team’s first meet, less than two months away.

I don’t know what to expect,” she says. “I’m going to train hard and hope I get a lot faster.”