Matthew Cabraja’s rise through the Canadian swimming ranks has been as meteoric as it was surprising.
And he’s not done yet.
Cabraja finished with the third fastest time in the 100-metre para freestyle multi-class at the Canadian Swim Trials on Thursday. His time of 1:03.64 was a new personal best, breaking the previous record he set last month.
Coming on the heels of the Ontario Provincial Championships where he won five medals (four goals, one silver) the 16-year old marvels at the success that he’s had.
“It’s kind of shocking. When I started about seven years ago with COBRA, just getting into the water and learning how to be tapped and not hitting ropes that often,” said the Brampton, Ontario native. “It was a rough road but I’m pretty happy to be here.”
Cabraja lost his sight at the age of nine, after unsuccessful surgery to correct a detached retina and cataracts rendered him completely blind. His visual impairment places him in the S11 class of para-swimmers in competition.
An S classification system (S11 – S13) indicates the level of visual impairment a swimmer has, with the S11 class representing the highest level of impairment.
The two competitors who finished with faster times were Alexander Elliot (S10), who won with a time of 54.66 and Caleb Arndt (S13) who finished at 1:02.55.
Elliot’s S10 classification indicates a locomotive disability of the lowest severity on a scale from S1-S10.
Cabraja, dripping wet and beaming from his performance, thanked the COBRA swim team for taking him in when his old swim club could not accommodate a blind swimmer.
“They’ve been like my second family. They’ve been completely supportive of everything I’ve done so far,” he said. “Giving a blind swimmer a lane when he can barely stay in that lane is pretty tough, but we worked through it together and it’s just the best community around.”
Living 40 minutes away from the Toronto Pan-Am Sports Centre, which hosted the event, Cabraja set his new personal best at his favourite pool supported by his friends and family.
“It’s been such a long road with all the support behind me. My parents, my coaches, everyone else at the club. Without them I wouldn’t be here,” said the youngster. “I had my favourite pool to be at. It’s fast and I know it really well. It’s kind of like home field advantage.”
Cabraja, who owns the distinction of being Canada’s fastest blind swimmer, knows the Canadian Trials are a gateway to his ultimate goal of reaching the Paralympic Games in Tokyo, and that the best is yet to come.
“I never thought I would be here. I really take pride in being here and I know it will take more work to get from here to the next step.”