Trusting In Himself, Noah Jaffe Became A Breakout Star In Manchester
by Karen Price
A lot of strategy goes into racing the 100-meter freestyle event, Noah Jaffe said, and that’s turned up in his S8 classification because there are a lot of different styles represented.
So his approach going into the final at this summer’s World Para Swimming Championships in Manchester, England, was to remind himself that his strength lies in the second half of the race. Don’t worry, he told himself, if you hit the halfway mark with people in front of you. Just trust in your closing speed and in the work you’ve done in practice.
The 20-year-old did just that, coming from fourth place after 50 meters to touching the wall first to win his first world title.
“Honestly, I didn’t know exactly where I was (when I finished),” Jaffe said. “I knew I was behind people up until the very end, but I didn’t know I’d pulled ahead of everyone. I just remember looking up at the end and saw that I won and it was just a really exciting moment. I was just in shock.”
A breakout star of the meet, Jaffe left his first world championships with a total of four medals, adding one silver and two bronze to the gold. The Carlsbad, California, native is now taking a year off from college to focus on preparing for the 2024 Paris Games by living full-time at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“It’s a big decision, delaying school to focus on swimming, but after worlds I saw that I have the potential to really do something in Paris,” said Jaffe, who’s a biochemistry major at the University of California, Berkeley. “I saw I could really make my dream become a reality, but I had to make this choice to make sure I could achieve it.”
Jaffe started swimming like most kids do, first taking lessons and then joining his local swim team around the age of 9. He always enjoyed the fact that it was an individual sport but within a team setting, and the support and camaraderie that comes with that, and he also liked being able to see the results of his hard work paying off in faster times. Jaffe also has cerebral palsy, and while his disability made other sports more difficult, he didn’t find that with swimming.
“It felt like I was on a more even playing field in the water,” he said. “It just felt like the right sport for me.”
Jaffe went to his first Para meet in 2017 and met several of his future Team USA teammates including Jamal Hill, Morgan Stickney and Hannah Nelson. It was then that he realized just how far swimming could take him, he said.
“With able-bodied competition it’s kind of hard to see yourself in that super competitive environment when you’re maybe not as fast as everyone else,” he said. “But seeing all the amazing athletes that are in Para swimming, I was 14 and it was really eye-opening to see all these great athletes with disabilities. That was when I decided this was something I wanted to do.”
The last few years haven’t been easy for Jaffe in terms of training and even swimming as his disability has advanced. He was swimming with the club team while at school, but he didn’t have a coach, mostly trained alone, and getting time in the pool wasn’t always easy. He was also reclassified from S9 to S8, signifying a greater degree of impairment.
“That was something I struggled with, just knowing that I was more disabled than I was a couple of years ago,” he said. “But I had some injuries the past couple years, and when you’re not hitting your same times as a few years ago I think you kind of expect reclassification. But knowing I’m still competitive, just in a different class now, was definitely very motivating going into worlds. It’s a whole new group of people to meet and race against, and that definitely shifted my outlook, which I think was for the best.”
Being at the USOPTC now, Jaffe is loving the consistent practice and training schedules, the coaching, the access to the weight room, the meals and everything else that comes from full-time dedication to Olympic and Paralympic pursuits. Being surrounded by other elite athletes is also motivating and makes it easier to stay focused on your goals, he said.
In addition to winning gold in the 100-meter event in Manchester, Jaffe also set a new American record in the prelims and then lowered the record again in the final. He also came home with silver in the 50-meter freestyle and bronze in the 400-meter freestyle and 100-meter butterfly.
“I think the biggest thing (looking back at world championships) is I’m really proud of myself,” he said. “I had to overcome a lot of obstacles to get to where I was. I don’t think I really had confidence going into this year or going into worlds, but coming out with four medals really helped me believe in myself a lot more and I think going into the Paralympic Games that’s really what you need. It was definitely a huge confidence builder.”
Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to USParaSwimming.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.