Patrick Waters has a time in mind, a mark he may have to eclipse to realize his sporting dream.
The 35-year-old swimmer from Kamloops wants to touch the wall in under 71 seconds in the men’s SB9 100-metre breaststroke event at the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Swimming Trials, which are scheduled to run from May 24 to May 28 in Toronto.
There will be no heats and no lead-up swims — just one race to get it done.
“You get one shot,” Waters said. “You need to compete and be prepared to swim fast.”
The “SB” in SB9 stands for breaststroke for swimmers with varying disabilities. Swimming classifications are scaled from one to 10, with one being the most severely physically impaired.
Waters is a former national-level, able-bodied swimmer who was introduced to parasport after a congenital birth defect — hip dysplasia — necessitated surgery to restructure both of his hip sockets in 2012. He was also born with a drop foot.
The changes in his hips shifted his pelvis and fractured a vertebrae in his back, later requiring another surgery. After a fusion in his back and more than a dozen pins were placed in his hips, the road to recovery was long.
Stakes are high for Waters, who fell about two-tenths of a second shy of qualifying for the 2016 Paralympic Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The father of three contemplated retiring from competitive swimming after falling short of Rio, but decided to return to the pool and chase the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo, which were postponed to this summer due to the pandemic.
Waters won two medals at the 2019 U.S. Paralympics National Swimming Championships in Dallas, Tex. — gold in the 100-metre breaststroke in the SB9 category and silver in the men’s medley relay.
He swam under 73 seconds — the International Paralympic Committee standard in his event — in March 2020 at the provincial championships in Victoria.
Those results had Waters on track and feeling good about qualifying for Tokyo ahead of Olympic trials, which were originally scheduled for March 31, 2020, in Toronto, but postponed when the COVID-19 crisis arrived.
Waters has been forced to live in limbo throughout the pandemic, along with the rest of the world and its athletes.
Training for a moving target is not ideal. Trials were rescheduled and again postponed. The Games have also been in and out of jeopardy since the beginning of the pandemic.
Last spring, with the Tournament Capital Centre pool closed for upgrades, Waters acquired an endless pool for stationary swimming. He also trains at home using the Vasa Swim Ergometer, a dry-land device with a bench, pulleys and band systems to work on his technique.
Waters, who has had pool access in Kamloops since June, is confident the extended runway to the Tokyo Games has been beneficial to his qualifying hopes.
“I’ve had incredible blocks of really good training,” Waters said. “This has been a blessing for me. I’m on track. I feel more confident and prepared than I’ve felt probably ever before.”