Matthew Torres Closed Out An Eventful 2021 With A Long-Sought World Record
by Alex Abrams
Matthew Torres in the pool at U.S. Paralympics Swimming National Championships (Photo: Joey Kirkman)
Matthew Torres felt confident, and once he finished his warmups in the pool, it was time for him to break a world record.
Torres had been training in Fairfield, Connecticut, with the goal of shattering American swimmer Jason Wening’s world record in the men’s 1,500-meter S8 freestyle.
It wouldn’t be easy, though.
The record was older than Torres. Wening had posted his time of 18 minutes, 39.88 seconds on June 25, 2000, nine months before Torres was born.
Nonetheless, Torres arrived in Greensboro, North Carolina, for the U.S. Paralympics Swimming National Championships in December ready to add his name to the record books.
“I felt good, I felt loose, and I was ready to go,” Torres said. “The mile is a really long race. … You have to be a really good mixture of composed but also energized and ready to go.
“So, I felt like right in between, right where I needed to be, so I dove in and just started going for it right from the start.”
On Dec. 18, the 20-year-old Torres accomplished his longtime goal at the nationals and became the new world record holder in the men’s 1,500 freestyle. He got off to a fast start inside the Greensboro Aquatic Center and finished the race in 17:42.44, breaking Wening’s mark by almost a minute.
“I honestly didn’t expect it to be that big of a record break, but I mean it’s just what it turned out to be,” said Torres, an Ansonia, Connecticut native. “I had the plan. I had the training. I put in all the hours of work, and I was able to put it all together.”
The world record capped off an eventful year for Torres.
Four months earlier, while making his Paralympic debut in Tokyo, Torres earned a bronze medal in the men’s 400-meter S8 freestyle.
He was the top seed heading into the finals and stayed with gold medalist Andrei Nikolaev from the Russian Olympic Committee early in the race. Then, after getting tired at around the 325-meter mark, Torres used a late kick to hang on for third and finish in 4:28.47.
As if that weren’t enough, Torres is wrapping up his junior season for the Fairfield University men’s swimming and diving team. He’s competing again after his sophomore season was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The atmosphere is just fantastic swimming for Fairfield, and I couldn’t have asked for a better swim team to swim for my collegiate years,” said Torres, who’s majoring in finance at Fairfield.
Torres was born with amniotic band syndrome, a rare condition in which bands of tissue inside the amniotic sac tangle around a baby’s limbs and cause damage. As a result, he’s missing half his right leg, several fingers on each hand and a few toes on his left foot. He also had mild hearing loss.
“That’s just been something I’ve been able to work with over the years and use it to my advantage in swimming,” Torres said.
Torres was a teenager when he competed at the 2016 U.S. Paralympic Team Trials. He said he went there to get more racing experience and to take in the atmosphere so he’d know what to expect at the 2020 trials.
“I’ve had my eye on Tokyo pretty much since I finished up the 2016 Paralympic Trials,” Torres said. “I missed out on the team five years ago, and pretty much right from then I was like ‘OK, time to start working on Tokyo.’
“So pretty much since the day I flew home from the 2016 trials I was like, ‘Put in the work, put in the hours and make Tokyo (a) reality.’ And I was able to do that.”
Torres had also had his mind set on shattering the world record in the 1,500 freestyle for some time.
He said he missed breaking the record by only a couple of seconds when he swam the event a few years ago. He decided to work toward it while training with his Fairfield coach and teammates.
“So yeah, honestly I would’ve been very disappointed if I didn’t get that record (on Dec. 18),” Torres said. “So, I’m really happy I was able to do so.”
Now that he has the record and a bronze, Torres said he has a new set of goals. He wants to finish his junior season at Fairfield on a high note and then prepare for the 2022 World Para Swimming Championships in Madeira, Portugal in June.
“The goal is to do better (in Madeira) than I did in Tokyo obviously. I’m planning to make the podium again in the 400, definitely not a bronze,” Torres said. “So hopefully we can make that happen, and I think with the way I’ve been training, the way things are looking right now, I should be able to turn that into a reality come June when it’s time for worlds.”
Alex Abrams has written about Olympic sports for more than 15 years, including as a reporter for major newspapers in Florida, Arkansas and Oklahoma. He is a freelance contributor to USParaSwimming.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.