Carlos Costa has never let his disability stop him from being an incredible athlete. At just 2 years old, his legs were amputated to fit him with prosthetic limbs so we would be able to walk and bike. Growing up, he didn’t like wearing his prosthetics, because they were heavy and bulky. He soon started taking swimming lessons and loved the freedom he had to move without them in the pool. He still loves that feeling and watching people around him when he is training. It helps him stay calm and focused to get through the day. He tried other sports as well, such as wheelchair basketball and tracks, but he decided to focus on swimming in college.
As a young para swimmer, he felt treated differently because of his disability. Not so long ago, people weren’t as open and welcoming as they are today towards para swimmers during swim meets. Being the determined youngster he was, he didn’t care about those negative comments and kept going. He started competing in para swimming meets, and liked to add as many laps as he could by himself after his regular training. After one session in particular, he swam 5 km without stopped and it inspired him to try marathon swimming.
In 1992, during an award ceremony, he met Vicki Keith, an incredible marathon swimmer who was being presented with an award that year. He let her know he wanted to swim across Lake Ontario, and she offered to support and coach him through his journey. After 2 failed attempts in 1992 due to inclement weather, he finally succeeded, in 1993, after almost 33 hours of non-stop swimming. For him, unless there are severe weather conditions compromising his safety, quitting is never an option. During any marathon swim, the hardest part is the middle, where you can’t see the start nor the finish. That’s when most swimmers give up, but he trained himself to focus on getting to the other side no matter what. It helps him to think that, while it hurts, it’s only a one-time occurrence, but his achievement will be remembered forever. He also likes to be challenged—once, while training for his swim across the Strait of Messina, in Italy, the man holding the distance record told him he would never beat the 40 km mark. The next day, Carlos swam twice that distance, making the new record 80 km.
Carlos retired from competitive swimming while still in his 20s. However, in 2015, he felt the urge to jump back in the pool and joined the Aurora Master Ducks to train for open water competitions. Trying to fit his training in his schedule, already pretty busy with work and family, is not easy. During the week, he wakes up at 5 AM and train before most people are awake. During the weekend, he trains up north in cottage country when his family is taking naps. He also tries to vary his training according to what he has scheduled on that day: a harder workout when he’s not too busy, an easier one when the day is already hectic. Lately, he also started to focus more on nutrition so he can train harder and be more focused during the day.
Carlos would like to encourage para swimmers to take up swimming whether for fitness, competitions, or open water swimming. While swimming as a para swimmer was harder a few years ago, the early pioneers really helped set the stage and para swimmers are now welcome in the swimming community. Now, as a masters swimmer, he hopes to have competitions that are viable for everyone, and that masters swimming community in general will do more to encourage para swimmers to get involved and participate in swim meets.
During all these years of swimming, Carlos’s proudest moment is when he finally conquered Lake Ontario in 1993. He is now training to cross Lake Erie, in August, 24 years after crossing Lake Ontario. This crossing is part of the Global Swim Series Competition across Lake Erie and is a 20 km swim. If he succeeds, he’ll be the first male para swimmer to ever make this crossing.
MSC wishes you good luck during your Lake Erie crossing and all your future projects.
Carlos and his family Carlos at a swim meet
Do you or anyone you know have a swimming story you want to share with us? New swimmers, veterans, competitive or recreational swimmers, send it to email@example.com, and maybe you’ll see it on this blog in the next few weeks!