Jacob Brayshaw is in a league of his own.
The 16-year-old para-swimmer in the S2 classification, swam in a pool by himself last Saturday in the Canadian Swim Trials at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre, posting a time of 2:11.50, just a hundredth short of matching his personal best for the 50m breaststroke.
His only competitor was the clock.
The category fills as you move into world or Paralympic competition, but swimming at that level of challenge has less competitors than the highest levels up to S10.
In the 2016 Rio Paralympics, a total of eight athletes competed in the S2 50m breaststroke, with China sweeping the podium, earning gold, silver and bronze as Huang Wenpan posted a world record time.
For the S2 class, the qualifying time for the World Championships is 1:04.66. Brayshaw is still a long way to go from reaching the Worlds, but as a 16-year old who’s just getting started in the sport, the future looks bright.
Jacob suffers from a form of congenital muscular dystrophy called Ullrich Myopothy, which causes a stagnation of his muscle growth.
“Most individuals with a more severe form of muscular dystrophy, they tend not to do any organized or individual sports for the most part,” said his father, Doug.
“We’ve been swimming for a number of years and have been involved in disabled sports for a long time and we have yet to come across another swimmer with muscular dystrophy”.
Jacob started swimming competitively at the age of 13, and eventually, with hard work, bettered his times. However, when he experienced a sudden growth spurt, his times were negatively affected.
“He grew significantly and his times actually got worse. He almost gave up swimming,” said Doug. “He kept swimming and once he stopped growing, his times started getting better.”
A year ago he was swimming the 50m backstroke in approximately two minutes and 16 seconds.
At the Canadian Swim Trials, the youngster swam the 50m backstroke in under two minutes, achieving a personal best and a Canadian record in the S2 classification.
Brayshaw isn’t letting swimming by himself hold him back from continuing to develop in the sport either.
“I think I can go faster. I know I can,” said Brayshaw. “I think about working up to this. The days I put into the pool. I’ve already worked for this and that’s my motivation going forward.”
Brayshaw started swimming for exercise, and now he’s at the top of his class in the country.
“I was doing it for exercise,” said Brayshaw, “My parents just threw it out there, and said I should try it for a bit. I just loved it, so I kept up with it. It’s amazing.”
Being a 16-year-old isn’t traditionally conducive to the lifestyle of being an elite athlete. Often travelling across North America is coupled with long nights, riddled with homework.
“It’s kind of hard, but you’ve got to work on your school work while you’re travelling, and it’s a bit tough.” said Brayshaw, when discussing the juggling act of balancing school and competition. “Tonight I’ll probably have to go and do an hour or so of homework, so not too much celebrating, but it’s worth it.”
An S2 athlete is one who is able to use their arms, but have no use with their hands, legs or trunk. Being an athlete under this classification, Brayshaw has a similarity to those in the S1 class, but has more propulsion through the use of his arms.
Brayshaw acts as an ambassador of the sport, encouraging those with physical disabilities to get out and try swimming.
“You should do it, even if you’re afraid. People might look at you,” says Brayshaw, “They’re just curious”.
Brayshaw also took a silver medal in the 50m backstroke with a Canadian record time of 1:59.72 on Thursday, a day after setting another Canadian record in the 100m backstroke with a time of 4:13.61.
He shaved 9.23 seconds off of his personal best, swimming his way into the record books.
“That race was awesome for me. That feeling when you look up at the clock, you see that you get that time, there’s nothing better than it.”
Jacob is gearing up for the Parapan American Games this August in Peru, where he will be taking part in the 50m backstroke, 50m breaststroke and is also looking into potentially competing in additional events.