Noah Jaffe receives a medal at the 2023 U.S. Para Swimming World Series – Minneapolis. (Photo: Jayme Halbritter)
Noah Jaffe will not need to contend with France’s Ugo Didier at the 2023 World Para Swimming Championships this summer. He is certain of that much.
At April’s world series stop in Minneapolis, Didier, the owner of two Paralympic and seven world championship medals, was the primary competitor keeping Jaffe and other Team USA men’s freestylers from gold. Didier topped the podium in the 50-meter, 100-meter and 400-meter races.
Jaffe, still a newcomer to international competition, earned silver in the 100-meter and bronze in the other two. That was more than enough to make him one of 22 U.S. swimmers bound for the world championships in Manchester, England, on July 31-Aug. 6.
There, with a wider pool of competitors and therefore less consolidation of classes, Didier (S9) will take separate heats from Jaffe (S8). But Jaffe’s experience racing alongside the French star will resonate, he said.
“He was great to compete against,” said Jaffe, one of five Americans set to make their world championships debut in Manchester. “It’s always nice just to be in a competitive environment with top athletes from around the world.”
Such is Jaffe’s approach to every phase of his swimming almanac. He is happy to have what he has when he has it.
Between Minneapolis and Manchester, his prime focus has been on finishing his sophomore year at the University of California at Berkeley, where he’s studying biochemistry. Swimming-wise, he trains part-time with the Golden Bears club team. Otherwise, he savors his version of collegiate autonomy, where he’s able to tailor his training according to his own development needs.
It’s a contrast to the go-with-the-group nature of age-group training that he was used to while growing up in Carlsbad, California.
That freedom has been especially handy since his last routine reevaluation yielded a change in classification and shifted his focus from distance to shortform races.
Jaffe has been pleased with his own adaptability there. Come June, he is eager to show off his progress for to the national team coaches in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“I can’t see myself while I’m swimming, so if there’s something that I’m doing wrong I might not know it,” he said. “There’s going to be things I don’t catch.”
One thing he knows he will catch is a recurrent tide of good tidings from his seasoned teammates. To date, few, if any, have generated that encouragement more palpably than Jamal Hill.
Last summer, on his first swimming-related journey overseas, Jaffe joined Hill as the two men on Team USA’s first Para contingent at Duel in the Pool in Sydney.
If imposter syndrome lurked around the rookie Jaffe, then Hill, the Paralympic bronze medalist and two-time world championships medalist, repelled it.
“Just him saying, like, ‘Oh, you’ve got this, you’re qualified to be here. You did the work, now you just have to race. That’s all you need to think about,’” Jaffe said. “Just that mentality. Like, ‘You’ve done the work already, you just need to show up and do your thing.’ That was really helpful to me.”
And so, even in opposing territory, Jaffe savored an atmosphere piqued by ample and amped audiences cheering throughout a series of friendlies, which the Americans collectively won 309-284.
Back in the homeland for this spring’s world series, Jaffe made another yardstick out of Hill, who swims in the S10, SB9, SM10 classes. For his part, Jaffe set an S8 American record while winning bronze in the 50 free behind the silver medalist Hill. In another statement heat, he edged out his mentor in the 100 for second place.
“We always have a great race in the hundred,” Jaffe said, while conceding Hill still has his number in the 50-meter. “It was a pretty stacked field, so no one knew where the points would lie for the medals, so I think we were all happy with how it turned out.”
“Moving forward,” he added, “I think he’ll be a great person just to have as a teammate this summer and hopefully beyond.”
Jaffe’s company in Colorado Springs and beyond will nourish his spirit as much as his skill set for as long as he represents Team USA. Beyond that, as content as Jaffe is to train solo at school, he hopes to join a permanent assembly there long after he graduates.
Berkeley’s Spieker Aquatics Center dedicates a mural to every Bear turned Olympian in a water-based sport. Besides 25 U.S. swimmers, Cal has produced 11 swimming medalists from eight other nations plus 13 water polo players, including 11 Americans.
“I would like for there to one day be a Paralympic extension,” said Jaffe. “Hopefully I’m the first of many that come through there.”