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Surrey paraswimmer breaks 6 Canadian records at international meet

Sebastian Massabie, 18, also named male swimmer of Ken Demchuk Invitational
Surrey paraswimmer Sebastian Massabie broke six Canadian records in three days at the Ken Demchuk International Swim Meet, held Dec. 1-3 at Guildford Recreation Centre. (Contributed photo)

It was a successful weekend in the swimming pool for Surrey paraswimmer Sebastian Massabie, who broke six Canadian records in three days at the Ken Demchuk International Swim Meet.

Held at Guildford Recreation Centre, the three-day invitational competition attracted paraswimmers from several countries – including the U.S., Australia, Ghana, Ireland and Mexico – and from 20 clubs across Canada.

Massabie, 18, an S4 (parasport classification) swimmer with the Semiahmoo Peninsula’s Pacific Sea Wolves club, broke six Canadian record in three days.

His winning time of 40.64 seconds in the evening finals of the 50-m freestyle was slower than the 40.20 seconds he swam in the morning preliminaries. That lowered the old mark of 47.50 seconds set by Garth Harris set in 1996, a Swimming Canada release noted.

Massabie, who has cerebral palsy, also set records in the 50-m backstroke, 50-m butterfly, 100-m freestyle, 150-m individual medley and 200-m freestyle.

“The season’s off to a good start – it went really well,” Pacific Sea Wolves coach Jy Lawrence said of Massabie’s efforts at the meet.

“Sebastian got classified,” she added, noting that in paraswimming there are three levels of domestic classification, then international classifications as well.

Massabie was named the male swimmer of the meet, with Canadian veteran Tess Routliffe named the female swimmer.

READ ALSO: Surrey to host Ken Demchuk International Swim Meet in Guildford

The meet is named in honour of Ken Demchuk, a Canadian swim official from Regina who developed a points system that allowed swimmers from different classifications to compete in the same race.

The 18-year-old, who has been swimming for more than 10 years, was pleased to break the records he did – some stretching all the way back to 1996.

“He was very happy! It’s a very stressful process to do the classifications… to have that stress, then have such a great performance afterward – it was very exciting and relieving for him,” said Lawrence, adding he also got an MQS, or minimum qualification standard, for Paris 2024 (summer Olympics).

Canadian swimmers must have secured a MQS to be invited to the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Trials, to be held in Montreal in May.

The process that paraswimming qualifies for spots in the Olympics is “relatively convoluted,” she said.

“What he did by achieving the MQS at this meet was, he increased the size for Canadian males at the paralympics – the potential for more athletes to be invited,” she explained.

The qualifying window for the Paris Paralympics opened Oct. 1 last year and closes Jan. 31, but Massabie won’t know if he makes it onto Team Canada’s paraswimming squad until after the May trials, Lawrence said.

The paraswimmer has made a lot of technical improvements and has shown a lot of growth, especially since 2020, when the COVID pandemic disrupted regular schedules and activities for most, said Lawrence.

“It’s been a lot of working with what his body allows him to do, versus trying to have him do things. Coaching paraswimming is very much thinking outside the box and finding ways that work with Sebastian’s body, versus trying to fit him into the (Olympic swimmer) mold… we coaches sometimes get stuck in the box that freestyle needs to look a certain way, ” she said.

“Once we started working with what he could do, it’s been very positive.”

Because Massabie has cerebral palsy, “half his body doesn’t really listen to his brain and stays in a state of rigor,” Lawrence said. “When he swims, he swims with his right side, so he only uses his right arm and his right leg.”

While she admits the classification system “still has its kinks to work through,” the coach noted that it levels the playing field for all paraswimmers.

“It allows athletes to be the most competitive that they can without constantly having to be at a deficit,” she said.

In order for the young paraswimmer to qualify for Paris, he’ll need to perform well at trials, attend a para multi-city world event and a European championship, Lawrence said, noting how proud she is of Massabie and his progress.

“We just have to, in the next couple of days, chat with Swim Canada and sort out what his next steps will be.”

Tricia Weel

About the Author: Tricia Weel

I’ve worked as a journalist in community newspapers from White Rock to Parksville and Qualicum Beach, to Abbotsford and Surrey.
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