REGION – Gold medalists Michael Phelps, Aaron Peirsol, Dana Vollmer and Amanda Beard all qualified for Olympic Games in the pool used at the California Classic Para-Swim Meet held last weekend in Yucaipa at Crafton Hills College Aquatics Center.
Someday the same might be said about San Dieguito Academy student Noah Jaffe, 16, who took four first place finishes back to North County. He set a personal best (4:44) in the 400-meter freestyle as well. His performance at the California Classic was the final tune-up before his December appearance at the U.S. National Para-Swim Championships in Texas. Last spring, he also competed against some of the best at the World Championships in Indianapolis.
Although Jaffe is four years from his goal of reaching the U.S. Paralympic Trials for the 2024 Games in Paris, it’s not out of the question that he could return to the Crafton Hills pool where those greats before him qualified for the Olympics. Since the California Classic is the only U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee sponsored qualifying event on the West Coast, the meet could help toward a trip to Paris.
Jaffe’s mother, Kathy Keeler explained that her son is one of a few who swim high school varsity as well as para swim events. “He won a CIF title last season as part of his high school’s relay team and a para championship in the 50 freestyle and 100 freestyle,” said Keeler. “He advanced to State and set a new California Para-Swim record in the 100-meter freestyle.” Jaffe also competes as a member of the North Coast Aquatics Club team based in Carlsbad. His trophy case expanded further in September when he was named a USA Swimming Scholastic All-American.
Keeler said her son has a form of cerebral palsy that limits strength in his arms and legs, however, overcomes most obstacles by instinctively striving to achieve. “Most people don’t notice any differences in him,” noted Keeler.
Jaffe says he is pretty open with other students about what he does in regard to para-swimming. “I am involved in the Challenged Athletes Foundation and hope to inspire other people with a disability to pursue the sport. I don’t know if I’m an advocate, but I hope to be someday.”
Paralympic athletes are classified from S1-to-S14 with the lower number being the most challenged. It’s common for these athletes to move up or down in their class due to a number of criteria. Jaffe competes at S10 where a friendly rivalry has developed between him and top ranked USA Paralympic Team member Jamal Hill and Yucaipa fan favorite Austin Olive.
Jaffe, Hill and Olive have competed against each other on numerous occasions including at the world championships, the California Classic and soon at the Nationals. Hill, 24 is close to securing a spot on the U.S. team for the 2020 Paralympic Tokyo Games. He is not fazed by his younger colleagues. “I have had no interaction at all with Noah Jaffe,” Hill said. “But you better bring your ‘A game’ to swim with Noah.”
Jaffe was asked why a CIF-State champion could not beat a good para-swimmer like Hill. He replied; “At 24 years old, Hill is stronger and has competed internationally like the Pan American Games. It’s cool to have higher level competition to look up to.”
Olive, 18, thinks that Jaffe is impressive because he is doing so well at such a young age. Like Hill, he says Jaffe does not interact with him either. “I hope to soon.” Jaffe says isolating himself is just part of his approach. Olive did say he, Jaffe and Hill push each other resulting in lower times. Olive has cerebral palsy and autism. Hill has a form of paralysis.
At the California Classic the times between the three dropped considerably in the 100-meter freestyle. Hill finished about one second ahead of Jaffe and 12 seconds in front of Olive. As one of the leading ambassadors of para-swimming, Hill doesn’t mind drumming up much needed publicity for the sport. “They were close because I was tired. I just came back from the Pan-Am Games in Peru,” Hill said. “I’m usually way ahead of them and that’s how it will be at the Nationals.”
Kathy Keeler said Noah is getting progressively busier as he gets older and para-swimming events give her a chance to be with her son. “I don’t make him do anything,” she said. “He runs the show.” Working as a project manager provides her the funding for Noah’s travels. “He wants to swim in college, but none offer scholarships for para-swimming. I’m sure he will go on an academic scholarship.”
Keeler says her son understands his goals. He prefers para-swimming because it provides “a unique, accepting atmosphere.” Jaffe credits swimming for playing a huge part of his life. “I hope to share it with others.”