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Loyola graduate and Paralympic gold medalist to deliver the 30th Sister Cleophas Costello Lecture

McKenzie Coan, ’18

Loyola University Maryland welcomes McKenzie Coan, ’18, professional swimmer, public speaker, disability advocate, and author for the 30th Sister Cleophas Costello Lecture on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, at 7 p.m. in McGuire Hall. The event will also be livestreamed.

“We are delighted to welcome McKenzie Coan, an Olympian, world champion, and tireless advocate for disability rights as the 2021 speaker for the Sister Cleophas Lecture,” said Afra Hersi, Ph.D., interim dean of the School of Education and professor of literacy teacher education. “The lecture, named in honor of Sister Cleophas, features prominent women who embody the ideas of leadership, scholarship, and artistic ability. These are all characteristics that McKenzie has displayed and continues to display through her work and experiences at Loyola and beyond.” 

Coan, a professional swimmer who lives in Baltimore and Clarkesville, Ga., has represented the United States in three Paralympic Games—including Tokyo 2020—and has won six medals, four of them gold. An Adidas athlete, Coan is a two-time world record-holder. Coan’s lecture, Breaking Free: A Conversation with McKenzie Coan, will focus on her experiences as a Paralympic athlete, living with a genetic condition, and her success in the pool—which is highlighted in her memoir, Breaking Free – Shattering Expectations and Thriving with Ambition in Pursuit of Gold.

Coan has osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease, and has broken more than 100 bones. She hasn’t let her diagnosis stop her from reaching her full potential and will share her story of determination, perseverance, and hope.

Coan, who earned her bachelor's degree in political science from Loyola University Maryland, will begin law school at Rutgers University in 2022. At law school she hopes to focus on civil rights and disability advocacy. While at Loyola, Coan was on the school’s NCAA Div. I swim team and was a student member of the campus ADA Compliance Committee. Coan also worked for the school’s Disability Support Services department where she advocated to improve campus access and safety for wheelchair users.

As a teenager, Coan, who is a member of Loyola’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion Alumni Advisory Board, founded Kenzie Kares, an organization that helps bring happiness to children who are hospitalized.

While attending law school, Coan plans to train and compete in swimming with the goal of representing Team USA at the Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028 Paralympic Games.

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

About the Sister Cleophas Costello Lecture Series:

Founded in the early 1980s and named in honor of the late Sister Mary Cleophas Costello, RSM, former president of Mount Saint Agnes College, which joined with Loyola University Maryland in 1971, the Sister Cleophas Costello Lecture features addresses by prominent women who embody the ideals Sr. Cleophas espoused, including scholarship, leadership, and artistic ability. Previous Sister Cleophas Costello lecturers have included authors Amy Tan, Mary Higgins Clark, and Piper Kerman, poet Maya Angelou, Olympian Gabby Douglas, musician Mary Chapin-Carpenter, and activist Tarana Burke.