Ian Silverman, a 2012 Paralympic champion, starts school at the University of Southern California this fall.
This isn’t a Paralympic or world championships year, yet it’s turning out to be one of the most significant for swimmer Ian Silverman.
Silverman, who won a gold medal in the 400-meter freestyle at the London 2012 Paralympic Games two years ago, has set two world records this year and will soon start his freshman year at the University of Southern California, where he’ll swim for the Trojans.
He’s eager to be moving cross-country from his home in Baltimore to join a program that has produced so many NCAA and Olympic champions.
“It’s going to be a great opportunity to go out there and study and swim, and it’s definitely something I am excited about it,” he said. “It’s a new adventure for sure.”
Plus, the days are counting down to the Pan Pacific Para-Swimming Championships that will be his biggest test of the year.
“I’m feeling pretty confident,” said Silverman of the international meet that begins Aug. 6 in Pasadena, California. “I’m definitely excited to go out there and race. I’m training hard and training very well. I’m excited to go out there and race some of the best competition in the world and see where I stand. It’s a pretty good benchmark leading into Rio to see where I’m at and what I need to improve on.”
Silverman plans to swim the 50-, 100- and 400-meter freestyle, the 100 butterfly, the 100 backstroke and 200 IM at Pasadena. He’ll be swimming against a field that’s set to include some of the best Paralympic swimmers in the world, including two longtime friendly rivals, nine-time Paralympic champion Benoit Huot of Canada and six-time Paralympic gold medalist Andre Brasil of Brazil.
“There will be good competition,” Silverman said. “It should produce some good races.”
In February, Silverman set a world record in the 400-meter IM (SM10 classification) with a time of 4:53.24 at a meet in Richmond, Virginia. That topped the mark of 4:53.30 set in 2010 by South Africa’s Kevin Paul.
Then in March in Miami, Silverman broke the world record in the 1,500 free, coming in at 16:19.70, besting his own record of 16:24.63 from 2013.
Both records showed he had overcome a rough transition from late 2013 when he had mononucleosis that set him back.
“The beginning of the year was a little bit difficult,” he said. “Just trying to get back into it. But since then I put up some real good times in Miami that I was proud of. … I definitely feel I’m back on track.”
He sees the Pan Pacific Para-Swimming Championships as a chance to get some momentum building.
“I definitely want to contend for the podium in hopefully all of my events and definitely win the 400 freestyle,” he said. He added that one of his goals is “to start medaling more” in some of the shorter events.
“It’s important to get some confidence to show that I can keep up in the shorter events,” he said.
After the meet in Pasadena, it won’t be long until Silverman begins at USC. Though he says he considered a few schools, he fell in love with the school when he made his campus visit and was sold by the school’s academics and its swim program and history.
“I thought it would be a great place to prepare for Rio and then possibly even Tokyo (site of the 2020 Games),” he said.
The fact he will be a Paralympic athlete competing with and against able-bodied Division I athletes is something he’s relishing. That’s a rarity, and Silverman — who was born with mild cerebral palsy and has had to have several surgeries on his legs — wants to make the most of it for himself and others.
“It’s definitely something I’m proud of,” he said. “It’s also important to show that Paralympic athletes can compete at the highest levels, and able-bodied swimming as well. So I’m definitely excited to show that.”
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.