From the first time Joanne (Mucz) Vergara jumped into a swimming pool at the age of three, she knew it was the sport for her. By the time she was finished with competitive swimming, she would become one of Canada's top Paralympic athletes.
"It wasn't until I got more into competitive swimming that I realized that it was my thing for a lot of reasons," said (Mucz) Vergara, a bilateral below the knee amputee. "My brothers were very athletic and into sports a lot and I came from that sort of a household where everybody is trying to find their thing. It was once I got going into competitive swimming that I realized there was a lot of competitiveness in me and I really thrived on the racing aspect."
When she was nine in 1982, she joined Manta Swim Club, finding a perfect outlet for all that competitiveness.
"(Swimming) allows you to use what you do have," she said. "My upper body could definitely compensate for the fact I was lacking on the legs."
Her first big break internationally came in 1986 when she won three gold, one silver and two bronze medals at the World Championships for the Disabled in Gothenburg, Sweden. She followed that up the next year by winning six gold medals and the award for Outstanding Performance at the second International Games for the Disabled in Paris, France.
That success led to the 1988 Paralympics in Seoul, Korea, where she won what she calls her 'Olympic set', winning gold, silver and bronze medals and setting one of her many World records. That was just a preview of what was to come.
She won six gold medals and set five World records at the 1990 World Championships for the Disabled in Assen, Netherlands. In 1991, she captured another six golds and set a World record at the Stoke-Mandeville Wheelchair Games in England.
The crowning achievement of her athletic career was the 1992 Paralympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. In the last major competition of her illustrious career, she won five gold medals and set five World records and was chosen Canada's flag bearer for the Closing Ceremonies.
"Eighty-Eight in Seoul was really good but 1992 was the top of my career," she said.
Her success in the pool did not go unrecognized along the way.
In 1986, she was named co-winner of the Manitoba Female Youth Athlete of the Year and was named Manitoba Female Athlete of the Year by the Manitoba Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association in 1986, 1987 and 1992. A three-time Most Outstanding Female Amputee Athlete at national disabled and amputee games, she received the first biennial Canadian Foresters Award for Good Sportsmanship and Performance in 1987. She was chosen the Government of Canada Representative for the Commonwealth Cape of Many Hands Project for the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, B.C., and was named the Honourary Captain for Team Manitoba for the 1995 Western Canada Summer Games.