U.S. Paralympics Swi... Features Swimming Has Become ...

Swimming Has Become Lawrence Sapp’s Calling, And It’s Paid Off With Paralympic Berth

By Tom Carothers | Dec. 01, 2020, 11:21 a.m. (ET)

Lawrence Sapp competes in men's 100 m Butterfly S14 during day 6 of the Para Swimming World Championship Mexico City 2017.


Lawrence Sapp wasn’t born into swimming, but the sport has always been in his blood. From an early age, he’s taken to the pool like a fish to water, and the results have followed. 

“It’s a good sport,” Sapp said. “I like it in the water.” 

Sapp’s mother, Dee, said that there’s no background of swimming in the family. However, her son quickly felt as at home in the pool as other kids did on the gridiron or pitch. 

“Swimming isn’t one of those sports as common as football in this area,” she said of her son’s hometown of Waldorf, Maryland. “He just took off.” 

Now 19, Sapp is on the cusp of his first Paralympic Games, looking to continue to build on an international career after taking silver in the 100-meter butterfly at the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships in London. 

Dee, and her husband, Carlton, first enrolled Lawrence in a summer swim team at the age of 4. Over the years, he went from the junior team to a competitive squad. By the age of 12, it was clear to Sapp’s parents and others that the pre-teen had the skills to go to the next level. A successful tryout with USA Swimming followed, as well as a switch to the prestigious Nation’s Capital Swim Club, based in Bethesda, Maryland — not far from Sapp’s hometown. 

The achievements followed Sapp into his high school years, where he broke five school records as a freshman on the First Baptist of LaPlata Educational Ministry varsity swimming and diving team. It was also around this time that Sapp, diagnosed with a developmental delay at age 2 that would eventually be determined to be autism, became involved with U.S. Paralympics.  

Sapp has competed with the national team since 2017, earning two medals in that time. In addition to the silver medal he earned in London — a result that clinched a place on the 2020 U.S. Paralympic Team — he also claimed a gold medal in the 100-meter backstroke at the 2017 World Para Swimming Championships in Mexico City.  

Sapp’s family has followed him on his international journey, cheering him on from the stands at competitions in London and Mexico City, as well as Australia. 

“We follow him pretty much everywhere,” Dee said, noting that the family will be “absolutely” going to the Paralympic Games in Tokyo. 

The Tokyo Games, now scheduled to begin Aug. 24, 2021, after being postponed a year due to COVID-19, will be Sapp’s first. He hopes to build upon his previous successes as he represents his country on the world’s premier stage.  

The decision to postpone the Tokyo Games came as an understandable disappointment to Sapp, as it did to many athletes. He said the decision was made to “keep people safe.” Instead of dwelling on the disappointment, he continues to dedicate himself to training for when he gets the chance to compete next summer, with an eye on top honors in the 200 freestyle and 200 individual medley.  

“I’ll be ready to go in 2021,” he said. “I want to win the gold medal.” 

It’s been a time of transition for Sapp, both in and out of the pool. After graduating high school in 2020, he enrolled at the University of Cincinnati. As with many freshmen, he has yet to decide on a major, though engineering has sparked his interest.  

The rigors of being an international-class athlete combined with being a first-year college student can be daunting. Sapp admits the schedule can be challenging. 

“I do get a little stressed,” he said.  

However, with a training and class schedule that can see him up at the crack of dawn, Sapp does find time to sample the life of a typical collegiate freshman. As with many young adults, he unwinds with a dose of television and video games, while also enjoying some soccer and running. 

Calendars play a heavy role in Sapp’s day-to-day world. He keeps track of events to come via one of several phone-based calendars, as well as a tried-and-true wall calendar. Organization has long been an emphasis in Sapp’s life, according to Dee. 

“He’s uber-organized,” she said. “That’s not something to expect from a younger adult, but he’s been that way his entire life.” 

As the days continue to count down toward Sapp’s Paralympic Games debut, he said he’s looking forward to competing in Tokyo — but also what comes after. The “after” being a return to Cincinnati with hopes of becoming a member of the Bearcats collegiate swim team.  

“I want to celebrate,” he said. “But I’ll also want to go back to school and continue my academic career.” 

Tom Carothers

Tom Carothers is a freelance contributor to USParaSwimming.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. 

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Lawrence Sapp