EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT) – Two-time Paralympic gold medalist Mikaela Jenkins thought she was just getting a tour of the new Deaconess Aquatic Center. Much to her surprise, there was something waiting for her at the end. Mayor Lloyd Winnecke escorted Jenkins and her family throughout the swimming center and at the end, she was greeted by friends and teammates who were waiting to show off the center’s newest addition – a mural dedicated just to her and her accomplishments. Jenkins was taken by surprise.
“I was shocked that people cared, if that makes sense!” said Jenkins.
One thing’s for sure – people definitely cared. This fall, the Deaconess Aquatic Center dedicated the competition pool to Evansville-native and Olympic gold medalist Lilly King. And now, there’s two swimming queens to honor.
“We knew when Mikaela won gold in Japan that we would pay tribute to her somehow,” said Mayor Lloyd Winnecke.
Jenkins said she truly had no idea there was anything going on for her.
“In fact, at the beginning of the tour I saw Jenny, which is one of my old coaches, and I was so excited to see her and my mom was like ‘focus!’ and I was like ‘why are you pushing me?’ I did not expect this at all. It was crazy,” added Jenkins.
The surprises didn’t stop there. She was also treated with a presentation in which she was given the key to the city and a video on the jumbotron with messages from Paralympic teammates and coaches.
“It’s the biggest honor, honestly,” said Jenkins. “It means so much. I honestly didn’t expect this at all. So to receive the key to the city and to have all of my friends and family here and just to have this honor of the presentation and seeing all my friends tell me how proud they were. It’s something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
The stands were full of friends, family and fans celebrating her triumphs.
“I’m just so proud of her and everything that she’s been able to accomplish,” said Aaron Opell, Jenkins’ former swimming club coach. “There were so many things that she had to do in order to earn that opportunity to be able to get to the Olympics and then eventually win gold.”
After the presentation, Jenkins stayed around to sign autographs, take pictures with fans, and even let people try on her gold medals.
“That’s such an honor for her and again for Paralympic sports in general to be able to get that kind of recognition here in the city of Evansville is really special,” added Opell.
“She’s a delightful young lady who represents our city, her sport with grace and it was a real pleasure to be with her tonight,” said Mayor Winnecke.