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Roswell teen Gia Pergolini wins gold, sets world record at Paralympics

St. Francis High School student Gia Pergolini swam the 100m backstroke faster than any woman before her on Thursday.

TOKYO, Japan — A Roswell teen set a world record Thursday with a sensational swim in the women's 100m backstroke, earning herself a gold medal at the Paralympics.

Gia Pergolini, 17, finished nearly a second-and-a-half ahead of Italian Carlotta Gilli with a time of 1:04.64.

The St. Francis High School student said afterward that her achievement "hasn't set in it."

"It's so surreal, I've been dreaming about this moment the last five years and seeing my dream come true... it's just crazy seeing it all play out and seeing all the hard work that you've done pay off," Pergolini said.

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She added that it began to set in a little bit when she stood on the podium and the national anthem played.

Credit: Joe Kusumoto/USOPC
Credit: Joe Kusumoto/USOPC

Pergolini said she woke up today feeling "unusually calm" ahead of her record-breaking swim.

"I was like, 'OK, you can't stress out over this, you've got to have fun.' I had so much fun swimming the 100m fly (on Wednesday) and so I just tried to go into that with my mindset - staying calm, having fun," she said.

She finished fifth in the 100m butterfly on Wednesday.

Thursday proved to be a historic day all around for USA swimmers, as Pergolini's close friend Anastasia Pagonis also won gold and set a record in the women's 400m freestyle.

"I'm so excited. We're definitely going to celebrate tonight, we're going to drink a bunch of probably Coke Zeroes," Pergolini said. "I'm really grateful, I wouldn't want to share this experience with anybody but her. I love her like a sister and she's amazing."

According to her Team USA bio, Pergolini began focusing on her swimming when she was diagnosed with Stargardt disease, a degenerative muscular condition of the eyes that "typically causes vision loss during childhood or adolescence" according to the National Eye Institute. It's estimated to occur in about 1 in 8-10,000 people, according to the NEI.

Her third and final event at the Paralympics will be the women's 50m freestyle on Sunday.