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Lake Forest senior shows her abilities in the pool

NinNissly Lake Forest hugs her coach Cindy Dell after 100 freestyle race for athletes with disabilities for during IHSA girls

Nina Nissly, of Lake Forest, hugs her coach, Cindy Dell, after the 100 freestyle race for athletes with disabilities for during the IHSA girls swimming finals at Evanston Township High School in November. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media

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Lake Forest Scouts

200 individual medley — 5) Reilly Lanigan

100 butterfly — 4) Reilly Lanigan

100 freestyle for swimmers with disabilities — 1) Nina Nissly

50 freestyle for swimmers with disabilities — 1) Nina Nissly

200 freestyle for swimmers with disabilities — 1) Nina Nissly

Mundelein Mustangs

200 freestyle — 4) Erin Falconer

100 freestyle — 5) Erin Falconer

Stevenson Patriots

200 freestyle — 5) Julia Wawer

400 freestyle relay — 6) Cheryl Xiang, Madison Blaydes, Riley Kirby & Julia Wawer

Libertyville Wildcats

200 individual medley — 3) Morgan Dickson

500 freestyle — 2) Morgan Dickson

Zion-Benton Zee-Bees

Diving — 5) Allegra Codamon

Updated: January 27, 2013 1:57AM

Lake Forest High School senior Nina Nissly never thought she would be able to call herself a state champion.

But it became a reality earlier this month at the state finals at Evanston, when Illinois became the first state to allow disabled swimmers to compete at the state finals. Nissly, who has cerebral palsy, won her first race, the Class B 200-yard freestyle.

“It’s fantastic,” said Nissly who won in 2 minutes, 49.28 seconds. “The coolest part about it was when I finished, everyone was cheering and I looked up at the board and I (saw that) I dropped time. I just couldn’t stop smiling.”

Nissly, who has been swimming since she was 8 years old, was one of seven athletes with disabilities who competed. The four disabled events were run just prior to the same races for able-bodied swimmers.

Nissly, who also won the Class B 50- and 100-yard freestyle races, wasn’t worried about her times.

“I just wanted to get out there and compete and swim,” said Nissly, who has been accepted at Wisconsin-Whitewater and hopes to study graphic design. “If I dropped time, that would be great. I never thought within my high school career that it (winning a state title) would happen, but I was hopeful that one day it would.”

It happened because Fenwick senior Mary Kate Callahan sued to force the IHSA to offer opportunities to swimmers with disabilities. The two sides quickly reached a settlement, and Callahan realized her dream by swimming all four events.

“It’s something that’s really close to my heart,” said Callahan, who has been paralyzed from the waist down since she was 5 months old. “It’s something that I think a lot of these other disabled swimmers never thought was an option, but I wanted to open the doors to other people.”

That will be Callahan’s legacy.

“There are a lot of athletes disabled in many different ways that you wouldn’t even know,” Lake Forest coach Carolyn Grevers said. “But this is an opportunity for recognition and for those kids not only to get recognized in the water but to be recognized for pushing past those disabilities and really conquer what they’ve got. This is a really good thing for all sports, hopefully.”

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