By Swimming Beyond Barriers, Zorn Inspires Others : Paralympic Games: Blind teacher hopes to encourage people to deal more handily with their disabilities.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the inner-city Indianapolis school in which she teaches, Trischa Zorn hands out hope. Zorn, a national swimming champion who grew up in Mission Viejo, tells the disabled students she teaches that they shouldn't let their disabilities stop them from setting and reaching their goals.

Zorn should know. Legally blind since birth, she won 10 gold and two silver medals at the 1992 Paralympic Games and was chosen one of the top 10 female athletes of the year in 1994 by the U.S. Olympic Committee. Next year she'll be back in the pool at the 1996 Paralympic Games.

Zorn, 31, has been selected to the 11-member Team ITT Hartford, believed to be the first corporate-sponsored national team made up of disabled athletes who have posted world-class performances.

ITT Hartford officials hope the team will encourage disabled children and adults to learn to deal more handily with their disabilities.

It is in the classroom, however, where Zorn, a six-time world record-holder, believes she turns in her best world-class performances.

"I thought with what I have overcome with my disability that if I could just reach these children in the inner city . . . that I could be a good role model for them and that would satisfy me," she said.

School wasn't that simple for Zorn growing up in South Orange County in the 1970s. She was an average student at Mission Viejo High, where she graduated in 1982. Learning wasn't easy and she earned mostly Cs.

"Special education wasn't where it is today," she said. "It still has a long way to go, but when I was in school I didn't have access to different equipment in order to reach my highest potential."

Zorn was born without the part of the iris that sees color, a condition that makes the eye flutter out of control rapidly. As a result she has very limited vision, and her eyes are extremely sensitive to bright light.

"The real hard part is seeing small print," she said.

By using large print books, special computers that generate larger characters, and normally sighted helpers to take notes in class, Zorn was able to overcome her disability in college. She earned a bachelor's degree at Nebraska and a master's at Indiana-Purdue in Indianapolis.

As a child, swimming was a way to escape her disability. Ultimately it has become a way to conquer it.

Zorn began swimming with the Mission Viejo Nadadores when she was 10, swimming side by side with sighted teammates. She signed with Nebraska and became a four-time All-American in the backstroke.

As a masters swimmer, Zorn holds more than a half-dozen records and in 1993 she was named female athlete of the year by the U.S. Assn. of Blind Athletes.

"Trischa is living proof that you can overcome any disabilities that God has given you," said her coach, Mel Goldstein. "With a disability you just go out and do the best you can. I see her being determined to be the best she can be."

Zorn is having fun too. It's that getting-old-and-enjoy-life-more type of thing.

"In college and with the Nadadores, there was always pressure all the time to live up to your coaches' expectations and my parents' expectations," she said. "I wasn't really doing it for myself.

"Now I'm swimming for myself and that makes a big difference."

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