But what he lacks in speed and technique, he makes up for in endurance; the guy hardly ever seems to tire in the water. And because many handicapped swimmers can't grasp the mechanics of swimming -- they may have trouble synchronizing their arms and legs, for instance, or forget to breathe regularly while in the water -- distance swimmers are a rare breed at the Special Olympics.
Tall and extremely thin, Paul hardly looks like a distance swimmer.
"You look at Paul and you see this long, lanky kid," Mrs. Day says. "But he's strong."
The Days began to suspect their son was something special after he won a silver and bronze medal at the Special Olympics world games in Minneapolis four years ago. To help him develop his talent as fully as possible, they persuaded the Annapolis Swim Club to let him train with them. And last year they got Becky Perry to start working with him one-on-one.
A native of New York State, Ms. Perry knew early on that she wanted to work with handicapped children. A cousin two years her senior suffers from Down syndrome, and watching her struggle to cope with that handicap had a lasting effect.
"All my years growing up, I just believed that individuals like Sharon deserve every opportunity in the world to be like everybody else," says Ms. Perry, who helps run a camp for handicapped children in Ohio every summer.
"Becky has been so good for Paul," says his mother, smiling as Ms. Perry's powerhouse voice reverberates through the swim center, her incessant shouts of "Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!" bouncing off the distant ceiling. "He likes to please people, which is why with her, Paul really gives it his all."
But for Ms. Perry, the pleasure is mutual.
"When you see a swimmer just get out of the water and be like hands up and smiling and really, really proud of himself . . . when you see that, it's just awesome, you realize you've accomplished something. Sure, swimming is great, and getting that technique down is really important, but there are a lot of other things that are just as important."
She shakes her head, strikes the air with her fist and beams. "I go home pumped every single day."
Badge of honor The Special Olympics can have a strange effect on spectators. first, it's easy to feel sorry for these athletes, many of whom are so handicapped they can barely walk, much less swim.
But watch a race, watch the competitors exult as they reach the finish line -- regardless of where they place -- and the pity is quickly replaced by joy.
These games do more than award people medals. More than 1,000 handicapped athletes, ages 8 and up, have come to Towson State for the Maryland games. Everyone will walk away with something -- a medal for those who place in the top three (and in the swimming events there are frequently only three athletes competing at a time), a badge if they don't.
For most, that's the end of the line, at least for this year. But for Paul, the state games are merely a tune-up for the big time -- the world games.
Paul, like the other athletes from Maryland, owes his presence in New Haven to the luck of the draw; competitors from Maryland were chosen from a hat.
It's a happy coincidence that he has a legitimate chance of returning home with a medal or two.
And if he doesn't win?
"I don't think it fazes him at all. He just loves to swim," says his sister. "He knows when he gets a medal, but I don't really think it means that much to him."
With the two gold medals already won, Paul goes for a third as the anchor of a 4-by-25-meter freestyle relay. And even though all the other three relay teams have finished by the time Paul jumps in the water, he still swims as fast as he can, still smiles as he climbs out of the pool, still looks around at all the people clapping for him and soaks in the adulation.
For Paul has done the best he can. He looks up and sees his parents cheering him. He looks around and sees his friends having a good time. He walks across to the medal ceremony and is treated like the athlete he is.
Win or lose, tomorrow, he'll be back in the pool. A champion.