Para SwimmingNews

Noah Jaffe Hopes His Gap Year Leads To Another Big Leap As Para Swim Trials Await

by Karen Price

Noah Jaffe poses for a portrait at the 2024 Team USA Universal Shoot on Nov. 14, 2023 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Getty Images)

A year ago, Noah Jaffe was an up-and-coming Para swimmer with big goals, and big responsibilities.

He was a biochemistry major at the University of California, Berkeley, and trying to balance the rigors of academia with training on his own wasn’t ideal. With the Paralympic Games Paris 2024 just over a year away, he began to consider the possibility of taking a year off from school to focus on swimming.

“When I was (at Cal) I had to pick and choose what I was able to focus on because I had school and limited hours in the pool,” he said. “I felt like I wasn’t really able to give my all to both things.”

After he made his major international debut at the world championships last summer and came home with four medals, including a world title in the 100-meter freestyle S8 classification, he knew he had to grab a hold of his opportunity. Jaffe chose to take the 2023-24 year off from school and has been living and training full time at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He’ll learn the impact of his decision when the 2024 U.S. Paralympic Team is announced on Sunday.

“It would mean a ton,” Jaffe said ahead of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, which run Thursday through Saturday at the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center in Minneapolis. “I’ve been working toward this for a long time.”

Jaffe, 20, was born with spastic, quadriplegic cerebral palsy that primarily affects his legs and right arm. He started swimming competitively at 10 years old with North Coast Aquatics in his native Carlsbad, California, and after watching the 2016 Paralympics he learned he could qualify to compete with his disability. He went to his first Para meet a year later.

As a Cal student, however, Jaffe was training on his own. He was writing his own workout plans based on things he did in high school and using what resources he had. On breaks home from school, he’d get feedback from his high school coach and then try to build off that over the next few months.

“I was making it work, but I definitely wanted something more,” he said.

Jaffe made his international debut at the 2022 Duel in the Pool meet, which was the first time U.S. Para swimmers competed alongside their able-bodied counterparts in the high-profile competition against Australia. But his first major international meet was last summer’s world championships in Manchester, England. In addition to gold in the 100 free, Jaffe also came home with silver in the 50 free and bronze in the 400 free and 100 butterfly.

Noah Jaffe competes during the men's 400-meter freestyle preliminaries at the 2024 Citi Para Swimming World Series on April 12, 2024 in Indianapolis. (Photo by Peter H. Bick)

Then in December, he was named swimmer of the meet at nationals after winning three medals, including two gold.

This spring, Jaffe was recognized in yet another way, being named a finalist for the prestigious Sullivan Award given to the nation’s top amateur athlete. While Caitlyn Clark won, Jaffe was honored to be the only Para athlete named, and to represent the community at the ceremony.

“Before the ceremony there was a little autograph and picture session, so that was really fun,” he said. “A lot of people there had no idea about Para swimming at all, they were just excited to meet me. It was cool to share what I do with them and help grow the community. Having that platform was a good way to get Para swimming out in the world.”

Jaffe remembers the inspiration he got as a young Para swimmer going to open meets, such as the annual Jimi Flowers Classic, where national team members mingle with new and developing swimmers. He now hopes to inspire others the same way.

“I always try to introduce myself when I can, and hope they maybe see me as someone they can look up to,” he said.

Being at the USOPTC full time has allowed Jaffe to have access to coaches, both in the pool and in strength and conditioning, as well as access to the best equipment, nutrition and other tools to make him the best athlete possible. He’s been able to try new things, finding what works and what doesn’t. Being surrounded by like-minded, elite athletes all working toward the same goal has also been a benefit.

“Also being around a lot of Paralympic athletes as well is new to me,” he said. “I’ve always trained with able-bodied athletes, so having that community and knowing this is a place for me and being able to connect with them both in practice and outside of practice has been great.”

At this year’s trials, he’s racing the 400 free and 100 free on Friday and the 100 butterfly and 200 IM on Saturday. While Jaffe had qualifying times to compete in the trials for Tokyo three years ago, he didn’t yet have his international classification so he wasn’t eligible to make the team.

“But I think, honestly, I don’t know if I was quite ready to be on that stage yet anyway,” he said. “I think having more experience under my belt it’ll be a better experience this year.”