New To Para Swimming, Harvard Student David Abrahams Is Making Up For Lost Time
by Bob Reinert
David Abrahams competes in Lewisville in April 2021. (Photo: Alan Beane)
It wasn’t until recently that David Abrahams discovered Para swimming. His early experiences in the sport indicate that the 20-year-old is now making up for lost time.
“I didn’t really know that Para swimming was a route that I could take until I got to college,” Abrahams said. “I had this unique kind of position within the sport, and I didn’t really know there was competition for people that were like me who were obviously differently abled than more traditional athletes in their respective sports.
“I’ve been legally blind for about seven years now. I’ve been swimming my whole life, so it was just kind of a transition to learn how to swim without sight during that whole process.”
Abrahams, a member of the Harvard men’s swimming and diving team, has obviously made a highly successful transition. As a freshman in 2019-20, the Havertown, Pennsylvania, resident focused on technique work.
“I was recruited with the expectation that I wasn’t going to come in as one of the top swimmers right off the bat, but that I would have a lot of potential to score in my upperclassman years,” Abrahams said. “It was a lot of technique work, getting some good race experience in at some pretty high-level meets, and just getting used to the team atmosphere and the coaches.
“I was really satisfied with my season because I got a lot of really good base work in with my technique. I improved my stroke a lot to set myself up for the next couple of years.”
The 2020-21 Harvard season was canceled due to the pandemic, but the Harvard sophomore mathematics major continued to train. It all paid off as he made his Para debut in mid-April at the World Para Swimming World Series in Lewisville, Texas, where he set the American and Americas records in the 100-meter breaststroke SB13 with a time of 1:04.07. He also won the 100-meter butterfly, 200-meter individual medley and 100-meter backstroke and placed second in the 50-meter freestyle.
“I would say I definitely did surprise myself in the sense that I had only been seriously training for about seven weeks at that point,” Abrahams said. “So, I was expecting to hopefully hit the 1:05 mark, but honestly, I wasn’t really expecting a whole lot.
“I had a lot of fun down there. It was a great experience.”
That experience left Abrahams hopeful about his chances at the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials coming up June 17-20 in Minneapolis.
“I’m hoping to be competitive in more than just one event,” Abrahams said. “In the event that I do end up making the team, I’d like to try to be competitive for the U.S. team in more than one event.
“I’m feeling great. I’ve been hitting a lot of good times in practice, so I’m excited to see what happens.”
Lewisville marked Abrahams’ first taste of competition in about a year.
“It was oddly cathartic,” Abrahams said. “Obviously, my favorite part of swimming is the racing. It was just great to finally get back to a pool with such great competition and great people.”
Abrahams said the Para event was different from Ivy League meets against rival teams.
“It almost felt like there was a camaraderie there between all of the swimmers in the sense that everybody there knew that everybody else was dealing with something,” Abrahams said, “and it was just really cool to kind of feel that kinship with all the swimmers there.”
The pandemic gave Abrahams time over the past year to establish goals. He now has a set for Harvard and another for Para swimming. For starters, he’d like to help Harvard to its fifth straight undefeated Ivy League season in 2021-22.
“I definitely would love to score at NCAAs,” Abrahams said. “Medaling at NCAAs would be incredible.
“For Paralympics, I think I really want to just kind of make an impact not only on the times I’m putting forward, but I want to show people that are, in particular, in my situation that you don’t have to sacrifice your goals and your dreams just because of the position you’re in. I’m hoping that’s what my legacy could be.”
No matter what, Abrahams said he will always appreciate what his parents —Rebecca and Doug Abrahams —did to get him to this point.
“They’re the primary source of inspiration for me, I’d say,” said Abrahams, “and all the things they did for me when I was younger.”