Gil Burgmaster | August 31, 2021

Brockport Graduate Going for Gold at Tokyo Paralympic Games

Former SUNY Brockport swimming student-athlete Martha Ruether ’18 is making her second trip to the Paralympics and will compete in Tokyo for Team USA swimming.
Martha swimming in a competition

Martha Ruether ’18, an Allegany, NY native, was born at 24 weeks with a visual impairment as her retinas did not fully develop. She is completely blind in her left eye and has 20/400 vision in her right eye. Despite this visual impairment, Ruether has met every challenge she has faced in life with enthusiasm and an infectious zest for life.

“Athletes sometimes come into a program, and they don’t feel included or acknowledged. They get labeled,” said Ruether. “At Brockport, I was treated like every other athlete, which I value so heavily. I wanted the same opportunities and treatment as everyone else.”

Ball sports never came easy to Ruether due to her lack of depth perception; however, she fostered her love for swimming at a young age and has spent the last 16 years growing as one of the world’s top Paralympic short distance swimmers.

Swimming has brought her and her family all over the world, competing against some of the top athletes in the world in events such as the International Paralympic Committee World Championships in Great Britain, the 2016 Paralympics in Brazil, and now the Tokyo Paralympic Games.

Her parents Mike Ruether and Maureen Ruether have been by her side every step of the way and she could not be more thankful for their support both in and out of the pool.

“My parents and I have been to a bunch of different countries, and we have had such great experiences. I’m excited that I get to give back to them a little bit and allow them to travel and see the world,” said Ruether. “That’s so important to me especially because they have been such a supportive aspect in my life throughout all of it, swimming or otherwise.”

Ruether is quick to reference her time at SUNY Brockport as a catalyst for the success she has experienced throughout her career.

“Being on the swim team at Brockport with a great group of people in a supportive environment was a special time in my life. That’s one of the teams I look back on throughout my career and have very fond memories of,” said Ruether. “On the University level, the professors were great about inclusive education. The student success center was great, and I had no accessibility issues at all at Brockport which really helped me to succeed holistically.”

Her time at the Rio Paralympics in 2016, where she placed eighth in the 100-meter breaststroke, has certainly helped to prepare her for the big stage this time around in Tokyo.

“Going into Rio, I thought I knew what I was walking into because I had been to two world championships, but it was not the same scope whatsoever. From a competition standpoint, the way I describe it is that they just turned up the volume,” said Ruether. “Everyone was competing at a level they had not even touched. One of the days there were 18,000 people in the stands.”

She has also found a passion for motivational speaking, particularly with the Camp Abilities program, where she can speak with a younger generation during the educational sports camp for children with visual impairments.

“Based on my background that’s an environment that has a really special place in my heart. Getting to talk to kids and encourage them to achieve their goals and to work with them on advocacy,” said Ruether of her work with Camp Abilities. “A lot of times, the visually impaired and blind community have been taught to be independent so much that it comes as a hindrance when you get older because you don’t want to ask for help. I love being able to talk to those kids and to teach them it’s okay to ask for help and to strive for your goals both in sport and in life.”

Ruether plans to retire from competitive swimming following the Tokyo games and has already entered the coaching ranks as a graduate assistant for the swimming and diving program at Malone University in Canton, Ohio. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in school psychology. For now, she’s leaning toward becoming a school psychologist so that she can impact the lives of young people, much like her mother, a teacher’s aide in Allegany, has over the course of her career.

The Tokyo Paralympics runs through September 5 and can be viewed on NBC, the NBC Olympics App, and the Peacock App.

On August 28, Martha placed 13th in the 100-meter butterfly in Tokyo. She also competed in the 50m freestyle on August 29 and the 100m breaststroke on September 1.