Coach Jy Lawrence thinks ‘’outside the box’’ to put her Para swimmer on Games radar

Canadian Paralympic Committee

May 18, 2024

‘’There is no such thing as I can’t’’


Photo: Jy Lawrence’s star pupil Sebastian Massabie (Swimming Canada)

TORONTO – One of Jy Lawrence’s early decisions when she became head coach of the Pacific Sea Wolves Swim Club in Surrey, B.C. was to integrate Sebastian Massabie into her top group.

Five years later, the 19-year-old Massabie is a world and national record holder and on the cusp of going to his first Paralympic Games this summer in Paris.

‘’It’s been very fun for me, because it’s a puzzle,’’ said Lawrence, during a break at the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Swimming Trials in Toronto. ‘’You can’t do a cookie cutter approach for Para athletes.

‘’I love that because you are thinking outside of the box and getting to work with the athlete’s abilities versus focusing on their inabilities.’’

Lawrence first noticed Massabie, who has cerebral palsy that particularly affects his left side, when he was 14 years old. He was in the pool practicing with swimmers half his age.

‘’He was qualified for the same level that my group was, so it made logical sense that I move him in with me,’’ she said. ‘’He’s been with me ever since.’’

When she was an assistant coach at the University of Calgary, where she also raced competitively for the Dinos, Lawrence was introduced to Para swimming through Morgan Bird, a Paralympic Games medallist for Canada.

But Massabie is the first Para athlete for whom she is the lead coach.

‘’When you’re at his age, you’re going to move through from A to B to C to D for the premiere athletes,” Lawrence said.  ‘’For an athlete like Sebastian, because of his disability, it might be A D A C. 

‘’The biggest part of this challenge is thinking outside the box. How can you piece something together that works with that athlete’s body versus trying to make their body fit into a mould that it just doesn’t because it functions very differently.’’

One of the most crucial aspects for Lawrence was building a strong athlete-coach relationship with Massabie.

‘’We’ve had that success because he knows the expectation for me is that h meets his potential,’’ she said. ‘’I don’t let him get away with less than that. When he says I can’t, I say, ‘no, there’s no such thing as I can’t.’”

Lawrence doesn’t hesitate to say that coaching Para swimming has improved her skills.

‘’Oh 1000 percent,’’ she said. ‘’It’s definitely made me a better coach all around.’’

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