When the 2017 World Para Swimming Championships kick off in Mexico City Sept. 30, Timonium, Md., native Becca Meyers will again be forced to overcome challenging circumstances that go beyond living with Usher syndrome.
Meyers' odds of adding to her already impressive medal tally are also impacted by literally being a step behind her competition.
"When I'm competing and when we step up to the blocks to start a race, I'm at a huge disadvantage because I can't hear the horn at all," Meyers said. "So they have this thing called a strobe, which they put under my block, and it's a light that goes off. So I watch for the light to go off, and then I go. But I'm always like a half a second behind, so that's a huge disadvantage for me in competition."
The Notre Dame Prep alum was born with Type 1 Usher syndrome.
"Profound deafness, losing my eyesight to a disease called retinitis pigmentosa, and then I have some balance issues," Meyers said.
"Retinitis pigmentosa for me, I have a field vision of less than 10 degrees. So think about looking through two straws -- that's how much vision I have right now. And then I can't see in the dark right now. So I have a guide dog, Birdie."
To aid her hearing, Meyers wears cochlear implants. But during competition she can't wear them -- leaving her completely deaf. She competes in the S13 class, which is for visually impaired competitors. But those competitors aren't additionally deaf, which is what leads to the disadvantage she faces in the block.
Meyers has been able to overcome the early deficit in her races with relative ease during her swimming career. She won four gold and three silver medals between the 2013 and 2015 para world championships and has won six medals (three gold, two silver and one bronze) between the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics.
Meyers, 22, will again compete in the 50-meter freestyle, 100-meter freestyle, 100-meter butterfly, 200-meter individual medley and 400-meter freestyle at worlds. She's spent her whole life adjusting to the difficulties of competing with Usher syndrome, and training for Mexico City has been no different.
"I pretty much grew up swimming, so over time when my vision has declined -- because I've hit a couple rough patches in my career -- I've always adapted to it," Meyers said. "For example, right now in training I can only have three to four people in a lane, and I kind of have to know where they are. I have to know who's first, second, third, fourth, going in order."
It has already been a memorable summer for the Baltimore County native. In July she won the ESPY Award for Best Female Athlete With A Disability -- as voted by fans -- for the second time in three years.
"It's such an honor to be recognized against all these incredible athletes," Meyers said. "I'm still in shock, to be honest, that I'm up there with my peers.
"It was a crazy experience. ESPN paid for everything. They flew me first class out there. They put me in a suite at the JW Marriott. I had hair and makeup done. It was crazy. I got on the red carpet, and I actually happened to see one of my [North Baltimore Aquatic Club] teammates, Michael Phelps. He saw me and Birdie, and he came right over. I actually had my ESPY at the time, and I knew I had won before the whole show started. So he came over and gave me a big hug and congratulated me. That was really cool to see Michael, and his wife, Nicole, was there. They were very excited to see me and Birdie. He loves Birdie, so he was like, ‘Birdie, Birdie, Birdie!'"
Birdie plays a major role in Meyers' life and is always present for training.
"She has a pop-up crate," Meyers said. "She'll sit on the sidelines. She'll just curl up; she never really falls asleep. She just always has to make sure there's heads moving in the water and she's fine. She always has to see heads popping out of the water or else she gets a little concerned."
As Meyers likely adds to her medal count at the world championships, she'll also be adding to the dominance of the Baltimore swimming community.
"It's amazing to be a part of it," Meyers said. "I'm still in shock that I'm a part of it because I always admired Michael and Beth Botsford and all of the greats that came out of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club. I was like, ‘Wow, I want to be like that one day!' To be a part of this culture and this dominant group is just amazing."