GRAND JUNCTION, Co. (KKCO/KJCT) A gold medal hanging from a ribbon is more than a necklace. It's awarded to the winner of an event often judged in minutes or even seconds. For Tori Smith, a world class Olympic swimmer, it symbolizes a lifetime of struggle.
"I've had over 20 surgeries to make my quality of life better," said Smith. "I've had two surgeries on each hand to make them as functional as they are now."
Tori was diagnosed with TAR Syndrome. Her arms are shorter than normal, her hips dislocated at birth.
"I wanted to be like the other kids," said Smith. "I wanted to be able to roll, and tumble, and play soccer. I wanted to be like them. When I was in third grade I got bullied pretty severely."
If Tori's disability wasn't enough, things became harder for her and her family. When she was 11 her father died by suicide.
"It made her question who she was," said Tori's mother, Deana Guzman. "It made her question her role in life."
Swimming was a way for Tori to find her identity. She's the Colorado Female Special Olympics Athlete of the Year and will be inducted into the organization's Hall of Fame in October.
"So overjoyed and had a feeling of being purely blessed just to be able to have this opportunity," said Smith.
In July, Tori will represent the Colorado Special Olympics Swim Team at the USA Games in Seattle.
"I'm really hoping for gold," said Smith. "I'm working towards gold."
When Tori dives into the water, it's not just another day at the pool. It's a leap of faith in herself and a hurdle through a difficult journey.
It's a reminder that she is as good as gold.
"Without swimming and Special Olympics I would not be in the place I would in today," said Smith.