Connor Gioffreda Is Following His Own Advice To ‘Keep Moving Forward’
by Karen Price
Connor Gioffreda competes at the 2021 U.S. Paralympics Swimming Team Trials. (Photo: Joe Kusumoto)
When Connor Gioffreda didn’t make the 2020 U.S. Paralympic Team in the summer of 2021, he decided to take a month off from swimming.
One led to two, and two led to six.
He watched his teammates compete in Tokyo, and he tried to get back in the pool, but he wondered why he was doing it.
“I wouldn’t say it was a state of depression, but it was like, I didn’t make the team,” he said. “I don’t want to try for another three and a half years and fail again. So what’s the point?”
He talked with his parents, and he talked with his teammates. They all said he should keep going, but he wasn’t ready to listen. Finally in early December of that year, he got a feeling that just seemed to come from God.
“Something told me you have to try one more time,” said Gioffreda, 24, who was born with a form of dwarfism called achondroplasia. “If you don’t make it, then at least you’ve tried. It was like a sign that told me, ‘You have the talent to do this, you have the determination. So give it one more shot.”
Gioffreda called the U.S. Paralympics Swimming staff and said he wanted to move to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and devote his life to training for Paris 2024. That’s where you’ll find him today.
Jumping back into swimming wasn’t easy. Gioffreda didn’t love the sport when he first started as a kid because he didn’t like being a beginner at anything. He wanted to be able to excel and compete at the highest level right away. In a way, getting back into training in January 2022 felt the same way.
“But I’ve learned that this will take time,” he said. “This isn’t something you can accomplish in a week, or a month. This is going to take years. I’m not going to get a gold medal in Paris today, but with an extensive amount of training I can.”
There are other differences now, too.
Gioffreda was a college student while he was training for 2020. He went to Frostburg State, the same Maryland school as U.S. teammate Zach Shattuck, and so for much of the previous quad he was balancing swim team practice and his studies. As a senior in 2020-21, Gioffreda opted to finish his education online and move to Colorado Springs. With his school’s COVID protocols, he said, there was too great a risk that he wouldn’t get enough time in the pool. But then he still had to balance training with online classes and a two-hour time difference.
With the pandemic ongoing and the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials happening in June 2021, just a month after graduation, Gioffreda skipped the ceremony because of the risk of infection.
When the trials did come, Gioffreda knew his performance wasn’t great.
“I knew I was a long, long shot to make the team,” he said. “Mentally, I got into my own head about it and it was sad. It was disappointing because it was something I really wanted to do.”
Now he’s working on his second shot.
His goals for this year are either to make the world championships team and, once there, earn Paralympic slots for the U.S., or the team that travels to the Parapan American Games. If it’s the latter, he hopes to find himself standing on the podium. By the end of the year he hopes to be on either the national A or B team.
When he isn’t training, you might find him working his job in operations at the USOPTC, likely at the front desk. He’s part-time — it helps with the car payment and insurance, he said — but he’s also the first one called to fill in when someone else can’t make a shift.
“My commute is up a flight of stairs,” he said.
One of the perks of the job and the living arrangements, he said, is getting to know not only his own teammates but athletes from other sports and talk about things like training regimens and their experiences in competitions.
“It’s a good feeling to talk with them and compare notes on what our goals are,” he said.
He also does school appearances, as was the case recently when he spoke to a room of first graders who wanted to know things like whether he had a TikTok and what he liked to eat.
Asked what advice he’d give a young athlete, especially a young swimmer with a disability, Gioffreda didn’t hesitate.
“Keep moving forward,” he said. “That’s my No. 1 message to all up-and-coming athletes because even though it’s going to be hard, it’s going to work out in the end. Keep training, keep working, and don’t let anything get in your way, mentally or physically. You’re not always going to get the times you want. There are going to be days when you add time. But it’s going to happen eventually if you keep moving forward.”
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.