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Cosgriffe named breakout Para swimmer of the year after impressive worlds debut

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Katie Cosgriffe had never competed on the international stage before last summer’s World Para Swimming Championships in Manchester, England.

The native of Burlington, Ont., only obtained her international classification last April following an impressive showing at the 2023 Bell Canadian Swimming Trials.

There, at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre, she secured a spot on her first career national team by collecting a multi-class medal of each colour, including gold in the women’s 100-m butterfly. For good measure, she also set a Canadian S10 record in the 100 fly.

Despite being the youngest of Canada’s 20 athletes in Manchester, and the only new addition to the group that competed at the 2022 championships, Cosgriffe delivered in her worlds debut.

One of the busiest Canadian swimmers with five individual events, she narrowly missed the podium in both the 100 fly and 100 back, finishing fourth and fifth. She also helped the mixed 34-point 4×100 medley relay establish a national mark.

For her performance, Cosgriffe is being named Swimming Canada’s Breakout Swimmer of the Year – Paralympic Program, joining Félix Cowan, Nicholas Bennett and Aly Van Wyck-Smart on the list of recipients since the creation of the national award in 2019.

“It feels pretty good. I wasn’t expecting to win anything because I was new to the national team,” said Cosgriffe, who turned 18 at the beginning of January and has one semester left before she graduates high school. “I haven’t been in the Para swimming world for very long. I think it just kind of shows how much I’ve improved throughout last season.”

Involved in competitive swimming since the age of nine, Cosgriffe turned to Para swimming after being diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT) in early 2021. She trains at the Oakville Aquatic Club under head coach David Tontini.

In his role as Swimming Canada’s Senior Team Coach and National Team Performance Manager, Paralympic Program, Mike Thompson has witnessed Cosgriffe’s extraordinary progression firsthand.

“Katie’s remarkable strides in the pool have not only set her apart but have also left an indelible mark on our team. Her breakthrough performances at world championships this year speak volumes about her commitment to excellence and her capabilities in the future.

“She has proven that with passion, perseverance, and a champion’s mindset, one can truly compete on a world level. Katie is not just the breakout swimmer of the year; she is a testament to the power of hard work and determination in the pursuit of greatness.”

While the Canadian staff had nothing but praise about her performance at her maiden world championships, Cosgriffe is her own harshest critic.

“It definitely was not my best. I was very nervous about the whole experience,” she said.

“I’m grateful that I had a lot of people who were willing to guide me through everything… I kind of had to learn fast and figure it out. But I think that was a good learning experience, especially going into a Paralympic year.”

Cosgriffe recalls how she felt going into her first world championship race.

“My first race was the 50 free on the first day. When I was in the ready room, I wasn’t actually nervous but I think I hadn’t fully processed what was happening yet. I just quickly got up on the blocks and dove in the water, and I don’t think I actually realized that this was happening, and I’m here on the world stage, until I was like halfway through the race.

“That was kind of an unreal experience. That race wasn’t very good for me but I was just there to have fun and learn how world competition works. Afterwards, I just kind of had to take a breather and calm myself down. Kind of realizing ‘Oh! I’m competing for Canada and it’s a little overwhelming.’”

About going into her first Paralympic year, Cosgriffe is again wise beyond her years.

“I’m excited because I know the team. It’s going to be a lot more competitive to make the team this year,” she said. “Sometimes it actually doesn’t feel like this is happening to me. I just show up at the pool with my eye on Paris, and hoping to make the team, because that’s all I can do.”

The 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Swimming Trials, presented by Bell, are set for May 13-19 in Montreal.