Cortney Truitt began her yoga practice as a freshman in college, but she wasn’t an immediate convert.
“In a class setting, I had trouble focusing on myself,” she says. “It was hard for me to see other people complete poses so easily, while I struggled to do the basic ones because of my disability.”
Truitt was born with cerebral palsy that caused partial paralysis in the left side of her body. She started swimming as a child to relieve the severe back, neck, and hip pain associated with the condition. But swimming became more than pain relief; she started competing in Paralympic events in 2004. Today she’s a three-time Paralympian and a six-time world champion with 26 medals to her name.
She restarted her yoga practice in 2016 in order to combat the mounting stress of pursuing her master’s degree and juggling three jobs as a student-teacher, swim instructor, and child wrangler at a local gym—all while training for the 2016 Summer Paralympics. But she noticed yoga also improved her breathing, helped with muscle recovery, and tamped down her pain.
“There are a lot of connections between swimming and yoga,” she says. “The need to control your breath and focus really helped my performance.” The payoff: four medals in the 2016 Games. “I truly wish that I would have started incorporating yoga into my daily routine and training plan earlier in my career,” she says.
Truitt stopped competing professionally in 2018. Now a fifth-grade teacher, she still practices yoga every day, experimenting with different forms based on what her body needs. “Swimming made me stronger, yoga made me calmer, but teaching is one of the ways I feel like I am making the world a better place,” she says.