By Larry Moko
A triplet by birth captured double gold for St. Mary Catholic Secondary School at the recent OFSAA swimming championships in Windsor.
Competing in the PARA category, 17-year-old Charles Giammichele won gold medals in the 50-metre freestyle (32.27 seconds) and the 100m freestyle (1:14.38). Both were personal-best times.
It was the top performance by a Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board swimmer at the provincial high school meet which featured over 2,000 entrants.
“It’s a goal Charlie has had since Grade 9,” St. Mary coach Kathryn Newberry said. “At OFSAA that year he won two bronze medals and said the next time he wanted gold.”
The COVID-19 pandemic came along, however, and all sports were put on hold at that point in 2020.
“So this was the next opportunity,” Newberry said of OFSAA’s return after a two-year absence. “He was identified as a high-performance athlete when everything else shut down. And high-performance athletes were allowed to continue to train.
“I think that commitment, drive and ability to persevere through everything definitely benefitted him in attaining two gold medals.”
Charles and his fraternal triplet brothers Joseph and Thomas compete for the St. Mary Crusaders at the high school level and provincially for the Golden Horseshoe Aquatic Club. Joseph and Thomas are considered ‘able-bodied’ athletes.
“It’s non-stop,” Newberry said of the family’s involvement in the sport. “They swim constantly.”
Another highlight for Charles came last summer in Niagara. There, at the Canada Games, he won PARA gold for Team Ontario in the 100m breaststroke (1:27.07).
He’s even prouder of that accomplishment than his podium performance at OFSAA.
“I feel that the Canada Summer Games was bigger because it’s all of Canada,” Giammichele said. “Versus OFSAA is all of Ontario.”
In terms of future goals, Giammichele has one in mind. “Hopefully,” he said, “to make the Paralympic team for the LA 2028 Games.”
Charlie’s father, Mike, says getting a PARA (S9) classification has allowed his son to thrive and gain confidence.
“Swimming has been great for Charlie,” Mike said.
“And the classification has really opened up a whole different world for him.”
When the premature triplets were born to Mike and his wife Mary, Charles and Joseph weighed two pounds. Thomas weighed a pound and a half.
“When they were born, Charlie was doing the best,” Mike said. “Then, he basically ended up having a quite severe brain bleed. And as a result of the brain bleed he developed hydrocephalus.
“He’s a miracle but he does have his challenges as a result of that brain bleed.”
Newberry says Charles is cognitively age appropriate.
“I had a brain hemorrhage when I was two years old,” Charles said. “And they had to put an IV shunt in to stop the bleeding. It affects my fine and gross motors skills. Also my balance.”
Newberry and veteran St. Mary swim coach Phil Hunks both have assisted Charles prepare to race at poolside.
“I have to help him put on his goggles and cap because he doesn’t have the dexterity to put them on himself,” Newberry said. “And if they are in the wrong spot they pinch the shunts in his brain.”
Hunks has been on the starting block holding Charles’ waist for support and balance.
“He very well may go to the Paralympics if he keeps on this trajectory of skill development,” Hunks said. “In this group with people of the same PARA classification, he’s rising to the top.”
Just days after the OFSAA finals in Windsor, Charles walked away with three bronze medals from the Ontario Swimming Championships in Toronto.
He says his favourite event is the breaststroke. But in high school PARA swimming, that stroke as well as butterfly are not allowed.
Last month at the city high school championships Thomas and Joseph each won gold in their respective events. Thomas took the 100m breast and the 200 IM while Joseph finished first in the 100m backstroke and 200m freestyle.
“They are incredibly supportive of each other,” Hunks said of Giammicheles. “They cheer each other on.”