They don’t get much publicity, and that’s understandable. After all, unless you’re an Olympic
sports junkie it’s not that easy to compare a performance in, say, the men’s 90–meter ski
jump, with one in the 400 IM or the hammer throw. And how many people can tell you whether a 1:56 in the
women’s 200 meter freestyle is more worthy of an Olympic medal than a score of 9.725 on the uneven bars?
There are so many factors, both physiological and psychological, involved just in trying to appreciate what an
athlete does, that it goes without saying that understanding that experience is even more difficult.
Okay. If you think that’s difficult – and it is – then try adding another layer of criteria to the mix. Add in the
disability factor. Now tell me: is it more difficult to swim 100 meters butterfly with no arms or with no legs? And,
how much harder is it to swim with neither arms nor legs?
Disabled athletes swim and run slower than able-bodied athletes do. But surely, they are every bit their equals, at
This is the world in which Julie O’Neill operates. And “operates” is exactly the right word, for she goes about her
daily business with the dedication and precision of a world-class surgeon. Julie currently serves as the team leader
of Paralympic Sport Performance for the United States Olympic Committee. In this position she oversees the high
performance planning and support processes, for the 28 Paralympic sports. Julie began her USOC career in 2003,
when she signed on as an Associate Director and coach of the swim team. By 2008, she was named head coach.
Under her leadership, the 2008 U.S. Paralympic Swimming Team achieved unparalleled success as the team
finished first in the medal standings for the first time, winning 17 gold medals at the Beijing Paralympic Games.
With 44 total medals, nine more than they took home from Athens (2004), the team proved their ability on an elite
international stage. The U.S. swimmers set a total of 16 world records, 23 Paralympic records, 48 Pan American
records and 99 American records.
O’Neill’s first Paralympic coaching job at the international level came in 2002 at the International Paralympic
World Championships in Mar del Plata, Argentina, making her the first woman head coach of any U.S. Team in a
major international championship. In 2006, she led the US team that won the overall medal count at the IPC World
Championships in Durban, South Africa. It was the first time the US had won the medal count at that quadrennial
Prior to her work with the USOC, O’Neill spent the previous eight years as a swim coach and administrator for
various USA Swimming clubs including Rocket Aquatics (Syracuse, N.Y.),Kansas City Blazers, Liverpool Jets
(Liverpool, N.Y.) and West Coast Aquatics (San Jose, Calif.).
Universally respected, O’Neill is a doer and a shaker, one of those people who make things happen.