Loyola University Maryland

Sister Cleophas Costello Lecture

McKenzie Coan smiling in front of the Humanities Building next to text:

Loyola University Maryland welcomes back alumna McKenzie Coan, ’18, professional swimmer, public speaker, disability advocate, and author for the 30th Sister Cleophas Costello Lecture on Thursday, November 18, 2021 at 7 p.m. in McGuire Hall on the Evergreen Campus. 

Breaking Free: A Conversation with McKenzie Coan

McKenzie Coan is a professional swimmer who has represented the United States in three Paralympic Games—including Tokyo 2020—and has won six medals, four of them gold. She is a two-time world record-holder, and she is an Adidas athlete—one of the first athletes with a physical disability to be fully sponsored by the iconic brand.

Coan has osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease, and has broken more than 100 bones. When she was young, her parents were told she would likely never reach traditional milestones like sitting, standing, and walking. In fact, she was expected to not live very long, at all. But Coan defied that grim outlook, and she lives a life marked by determination, grit, perseverance, humor, and hope.

Coan published her first book, Breaking Free – Shattering Expectations and Thriving with Ambition in Pursuit of Gold, in 2021. The memoir explains why she believes her genetic condition, the result of a spontaneous mutation, happened for her, not to her, and how she has lived an unexpectedly full life while reaching the top of her sport.

Coan holds a bachelor's degree in political science from Loyola University Maryland, where she was on the school’s NCAA Div. I swim team and was a student member of the campus ADA Compliance Committee. She also worked for the school’s disability support services department and was instrumental in improving campus access and safety for wheelchair users.

Outside of the water, Coan thrives on connecting with others by sharing her story through public-speaking engagements and through Kenzie Kares, an organization she founded as a teenager to help bring happiness to children who are hospitalized.

Coan will enter law school at Rutgers University in 2022, where she intends to focus on civil rights and disability advocacy, inspired by her work with Kenzie Kares to act on behalf of others with disabilities, as well as the character Elle Woods from her favorite movie, "Legally Blonde." 

McKenzie plans to train and compete while in law school, with the goal of representing Team USA at the Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028 Paralympic Games. She currently lives in Baltimore and Clarkesville, Georgia.

The event is open to the public. Attendees can choose to register for in-person or virtual tickets.

Text reading: 50 Years Celebrating Women at Loyola

The 2021 Sister Cleophas Costello Lecture is part of the Celebration of 50 Years of Women at Loyola.