CARY, N.C. — At age 19, Tucker Dupree is already ranked among the world's top swimmers.
“I was ranked fourth in one event, then top six in every other event that I swam,” the Garner native said.
Last year, he won six gold medals at the U.S. American Open Swimming Championships, as well as two gold and four silver medals at the Pan-American Games in Vancouver.
Those global rankings landed Dupree a spot with the USA team this summer at the Paralympic Games in Beijing, where he will compete in six events against other world athletes with physical disabilities.
He qualified last April in Minneapolis, where he won five gold medals. He and his parents will travel to Beijing in September, following the Olympic Games.
“I don't think it's hit me, but I mean, hearing about my parents buying tickets kind of gets me excited, like. Yeah, (I) can't wait,” Dupree said.
It is a life-changing accomplishment for someone whose life plunged into uncharted waters two years ago.
“All my central vision's gone,” Dupree said.
He woke up one day, and his vision was blurry.
After two months of testing, doctors diagnosed Dupree with a rare condition called Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy, which causes degeneration of the nerves connected to the eye.
It is genetic, it is permanent, and there is no cure. Dupree can see only in his periphery, 40 percent vision left in one eye; 25 percent in the other.
“Perception is a lot different, so into my walls, I slow down a little more," Dupree said of his swimming. "But other than that, it's all stroke counting.”
“We just take it one day at a time,” mother Marlene Dupree said. “He's a go-getter. When he wants to do something, he does it well."
Dupree was a standout swimmer from Garner Magnet High School, where he graduated in 2007. He was captain of the swim team and won the school's swimming most valuable player award.
“I've never been depressed on (my loss of sight). I've never been upset. It's who I am now and I don't know if I would change it,” Dupree said.
“As long as I put my 100 percent effort in, that's what I'm happy with,” he added.