Dedicated Dedekind Brings Paris Into View
Almost immediately after she became World Champion in the 50 metres freestyle, Katja Dedekind set about improving her performance.
There was a brief window of time to celebrate the gold and two silver medals she won at the Championships in Portugal before her focus shifted to the next big opportunity, the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
There, barely six weeks after her breakthrough international triumph, Dedekind produced a blistering time of 26.56s to win again and this time establish a new world record for the 50m freestyle S13.
Anyone who’s followed Dedekind’s progress would hardly have been surprised. The 22-year-old South Africa-born swimmer has made a habit of achieving the unlikely, seemingly thriving off the limitations some have tried to place on her.
“There was definitely a lot of ‘proving people wrong’,” she said. “Not just in my swimming career but also in life itself.
“They said I’d always need help and always be dependent on my parents and everything. But now I’m a homeowner with a dog, living by myself but still living my full time career as an athlete.”
Dedekind played goalball, a Paralympic sport for vision impaired athletes, and impressed as a junior. However, while recovering from a knee injury, she began swimming and rediscovered the love of the water she and her twin brother Michael had experienced as kids.
“We all find something that makes us feel like everybody else,” Dedekind said.
“When I swim, I don’t feel like I’m out of place, I feel like I actually fit in. I think without it I wouldn’t have been able to grow into the person I am today.”
By 2016, Dedekind earned selection to the Australian Paralympic Team for the Games in Rio, where she was one of the youngest athletes. She competed in four events and won a bronze medal in the 100m backstroke S13. She didn’t progress to the final of the 50m.
At the delayed Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, she won a further two bronze medals and came fourth in the 50m before securing that big first win at the 2022 Worlds, breaking the world record six weeks later and then, in 2023, successfully defending her title.
There have been obstacles along the way, separate from blindness in her right eye and tunnel vision in her left. Dedekind injured her elbow when she swam at full pace into the wall requiring corrective surgery a year later. She has also battled endometriosis, speaking freely about the condition in the hope of helping other women.
“To make it to my third Games at 23 I think would be fantastic,” the Bachelor of Criminology student said.
“Everything is possible. Us Paralympic athletes are proof of that. Why not give it a shot? I got told ‘no’. Look at me now.”