The water is formless, shapeless, as it laps against the edge of the pool.
Diving through the clear barrier, Katja Dedekind’s body moves hard and fast as it adapts to the water, propelling her to the wall at the end.
There, at the finish, as she pulls off her goggles and lets her blonde hair out from under her cap, is always the glimmer of a personal best, a gold medal, a world record.
And at the Commonwealth Games in England’s Birmingham last month, the 21-year-old Paralympian scored all three.
“You know, I’m pretty happy with this year – it’s been my most successful year yet and can’t really complain about that, to be honest,” she says with a laugh.
“I don’t want to sound cocky or anything but I have the habit of swimming well when I need to, and I think I keep forgetting that I do that.
“So, I kind of shocked myself I did so well after the year I’ve had, not being the healthiest person on earth and having some injuries that I keep giving myself because I can’t see very well.”
Much of her success, Dedekind says, can be traced back to her decision to move to Yeronga Park Swim Club, in Brisbane’s south, with coach Kate Sparkes.
“I knew Kate from the Paralympics the year before, and I was, like, you know what, let’s just do it, let’s just go and talk to her and see if she’s up to it, and she was up for the challenge,” she says.
“We took that challenge head on, and I guess this year’s results of Commonwealth Games champion, world record, two silver medals showed that it was the right teamwork.”
Racing in the S13 category, for the visually impaired, brings challenges.
But what happens poolside is as important as the race.
“[Earlier this year] I was just really anxious about coming back to training,” Dedekind says.
“I had this little breakdown on the side of the pool and Kate just stood there and held me and said ‘yeah it’s OK, it’s fine, you can cry about it’, and she just held me for half an hour.
“Then I got back in, trained again and she was fine with it. It wasn’t an issue. It wasn’t like ‘you’re broken, you mustn’t come train here’.
“It was just having a little moment, and then we’ll go back and do what we need to do.”
In the beginning, Dedekind knew water mostly as a form of rehabilitation.
She would learn, after a fall in primary school, how to nurse a damaged knee – with a “beautiful scar to show for it” – back to good health.
Her family hadn’t known she was visually impaired until she started to fall, bump into things and turned up with more bruises than did her twin brother Michael.
To be safer, she was told to follow him: “Do what he does.”
Follow she did.
She was a step behind her brother in all the sports he played. Rugby. Soccer. Tennis.
“I tried the whole lot, and failed miserably,” Dedekind recalls over the phone from Sydney.
She pauses. “Then, he started swimming.” And before long, competing.
“I was like, I want to try that. Then he stopped, and I was like, I’m going to stay.”
Suddenly, 50-metre-long pools of water represented worlds of opportunities for Dedekind.
“Then I got back in, trained again. It wasn’t an issue. It wasn’t like ‘you’re broken, you mustn’t come train here’.”
In year 9 she won three gold and five silver medals at the 2015 SSA Pacific School Games.
A year later, at the Australian Swimming Championships, she won the bronze medal in the women’s 200-metre freestyle and finished fifth in the women’s 50-metre backstroke and 50-metre butterfly.
That year, Dedekind was selected to represent Australia at the Rio Paralympic Games, where she won bronze in the women’s 100-metre backstroke in the S13 division.
Then came a gold at the Pan Pacific Para Swimming Championships in Cairns for the 100-metre backstroke. Dedekind was yet to turn 17 years old.
Dedekind says Sparkes will look at a situation, “evaluate it perfectly”, know how to handle it, but will have trust in Dedekind to know her body’s limits.
“That’s the whole basis of the relationship: trust,” she says.
“I remember at [the world championships] sitting down on the floor for the 100 backstroke final and she just came and sat beside me, shoulder to shoulder, just looked at me, and said ‘have fun’.
“Then I was just chilling out. I almost dozed off because I was so relaxed.
“I didn’t have a care in the world in that moment.
“Then I went and raced my personal best and got a silver. I don’t know what it is about her – she’s got some zen she just passes along, even in training.”
“She actually said to me at the Comm Games before my world record, ‘you can go 27, just do the process right, I’ll still like ya’. I was, like, OK I’m fine, I can swim the process and not worry about the outcome and she’s still going to want me around.”
And the outcome? Dedekind swam a world record, with a lightning time of 26.56, 0.11 faster than the previous record set by Italy’s Carlota Gilli in 2018.
Her days usually start with a 4.40am rise, her mother dropping her off for a two-hour training session, before she returns home for a “second brekkie, third brekkie”, gym or appointments, followed by more training in the afternoon.
Before moving to Yeronga to be trained by Sparkes, Dedekind had been a creative writing student at the University of Sunshine Coast, and part of the SC Spartans team.
Outside the pool, books fill her spare time.
“Ironically, I’m a big book reader, which is funny because ‘blind girl reads’ – it’s hilarious,” she laughs.
“I am obsessed with my books.
“I’m not really into much else but what I am doing is becoming more of a social butterfly.
“For the past couple of years I’ve been ‘student and athlete’ and that’s it.
“But now I’m kind of being athlete and Katja at the same time, you know, just going out to the shops just because I can, not ‘I’m an athlete, I need to stay home and be healthy and work out and be responsible’.”
While Dedekind says she hasn’t had time to sit down to chat with Sparkes about the future, she is aiming for the 2024 Paralympics in Paris.
“And just try to be one of the best in the world and see what I can do on that stage,” she says.