Brecksville teen wins state para swimming titles, earns nationals spot

by Dan Holland

Brecksville resident Lucas Culotta, a 16-year-old junior at Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School, has been setting records over the last few years competing as a swimmer in adaptive sports.

Culotta won two OHSAA Division II state titles in the Para 50-yard freestyle and 100-meter backstroke events as a member of the BBHHS swim team on Feb. 24 at C.T. Branin Natatorium in Canton.

He also earned a spot on the U.S. Paralympics Swimming National Team during the World Series of Para Swimming finals held April 11-13 in Indianapolis. The event hosted more than 400 swimmers from 17 countries.

Lucas, who was born at 27 weeks, suffers from cerebral palsy, spastic paraplegia and congenital scoliosis. He began swimming at the age of 8 and began competing in adaptive sports swimming competitions a few years later.

Adaptive sports rate athletes on a reverse scale of 10-1, going from least to most physically disabled. Lucas has an S8 designation for swimming competitions. He is currently ranked among the top four male swimmers in the nation within his S8 designation.

As a member of the U.S. Para Swimming National Team, Culotta will be heading to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympics training camp in Colorado Springs this summer for altitude training and a number of team camps. He received his international classification – a requirement to compete in an international event – last fall in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Culotta expects to be invited to an international World Series event this year, which is typically held in Italy, England or Australia, according to his mother, Tricia Culotta. “He’s had a busy year traveling,” she said. “From Colorado to Vancouver; then he was in nationals in Orlando and Indianapolis. We’ll be heading to Minnesota for the paralympics time trials in June.”

Although Culotta will compete in the time trials in June for the 2024 Summer Paralympics to be held in Paris, France Aug. 28 – Sept. 8, he will not be eligible to compete. He is eyeing the 2028 Summer Paralympic Games to be held in Los Angeles.

“In traditional Olympics, you have the time trials, and the fastest people go,” explained Tricia. “But for the Paralympics, there are other parameters. He has all of them except that you have to have been in another world series event outside of the U.S., and Canada does not count.”

Outside of the BBHHS swim season, Lucas trains at Cleveland State University with the Blazing Barracudas, an affiliate of USA Swimming.

“His club swimming coach modifies practices for him because his body can’t handle the six days-a-week or two-a-day practices,” explained Tricia. “So, his coach modifies sets for him to work to his strengths because of his cerebral palsy, because he doesn’t have the muscles in his legs, and he has stiffness in his hips and shoulders. So, he modifies things for him to help him fine-tune his stroke.”

“Having Lucas as a member of the swim club has been truly inspiring,” said his club swimming coach, Eric Dennis. “His determination and positive attitude light up the pool deck every day. He brings a unique perspective to our team and has quickly become an integral part of our community.”

His high school swim coach also makes modifications to accommodate Lucas.

“Lucas is very in tune with his body and how he is feeling on that particular day,” said Chris Thomas, head swim coach at BBHHS. “On some days, we can push hard, and on others we might back off on the intensity. Basically, we make adjustments accordingly to ensure he is getting what he needs to be successful in and out of the pool.”

Lucas, who began taking engineering courses this school year through Cuyahoga Valley Career Center, is a member of the National Honor Society and Technical Honor Society. He also works as a lifeguard and swim instructor at Brecksville Community Center.

“What I like most about swimming is the community,” said Lucas. “Everyone constantly supports one another in and out of the pool. Whether it’s my teammates, coaches or fellow athletes, there is always a sense of camaraderie.”

Lucas has served as an inspiration for many.

“Lucas’s perseverance and optimism serve as a source of inspiration for everyone on the team, reminding us all to never give up on our dreams no matter the challenges we may face,” said Dennis.

“It is an honor to be on Team USA and it is my responsibility to inspire the next generation,” said Lucas. “I want to show my community that no matter their struggles, anything is possible as long as you never give up.” ∞

Photo: BBHHS junior Lucas Culotta earned a spot on the U.S. Paralympics Swimming National Team this year. Photo submitted.