When Edgaras Matakas, Lithuanian paralympic swimmer, competes, it takes a special technique to self-orient in the pool without being able to see it. His coach has even made a special tool to give signals about the approaching finish line.
Twenty-year-old Edgaras Matakas hails from Lithuania's second city Kaunas. His eyesight was weak since birth and progressively deteriorated until he became completely blind at the age of 15.
He took up swimming four years ago and, soon enough, learned about a possibility to compete in 2016 Paralympic Games. The 17-year-old then became Lithuania's first blind paralympic swimmer.
He did not advance to the finals in Rio de Janeiro, but in 2017, he won bonze and gold in world para swimming championship.
Now, he is getting ready to defend his title in 50m freestyle in London this September.
Swimming, Matakas says, is a wonderful sensation.
“When you jump in, emerge from water, the first strokes – and you keep swimming and swimming at top speed. You anticipate the wall, which seems so be right there, you've got to touch it, and you keep accelerating. The coach taps you on the back with a stick, you extend an arm to touch the wall. And if then they say that you won, you don't know how to contain yourself, you wanna do everything,” the athlete describes what it feels to swim without seeing.
Paulius Stankevičius, Matakas' coach, is often asked to show the special stick he uses to alert the athlete about the approaching turn or finish.
The home-made tool consists of a fishing rod with a bulb syringe attached at the tip. “It's cheap, eight euros in all,” Stankevičius says.
In the World Para Swimming Championship in London, Matakas, along with his compatriot Mindaugas Dvylaitis, is also competing for a ticket to the 2020 Tokyo Games. To qualify for the Paralympics, he must finish at least second.