The highlights have been many, the tough times more subdued.
By her very nature, local swimmer and soon-to-be Laurentian University graduate Natalie Lefebvre has always tended to keep things very close to the vest.
Now 21 years of age and armed with an emerging vision of what her future may hold in store, the youngest of two girls in the family has learned from the trials and tribulations, shaped by a sport that can be unrelentingly judgemental, at times.
Coming out the other side, Lefebvre will tackle adulthood armed with a far healthier perspective on life, one that should serve her well as she looks to translate the understanding of her struggles for the betterment of others.
“It’s mostly in the past year or so that the perspective has kind of sunk in,” said the long-time resident of Valley East, who followed in the footsteps of her sister, Myriam, swimming competitively with the Waves by the age of six.
“A big thing that has helped me is my whole perception of myself: my body image, being comfortable with my own skin. In the past year or two, I’ve built up a lot more confidence in myself, I’ve looked at myself in a more positive way.”
Despite all of the success that she enjoyed in the pool, notably in her youth, that inner peace was fleeting. “I should have been a little bit easier on myself,” said Lefebvre, completing her fourth year of studies in the french Health Promotions program at LU. “You miss the cut by a second and you’re so disappointed.”
“I’ve learned how to better control my emotions, how to accept negative (constructive) feedback. You live and you learn. Throughout my years of swimming, I’ve grown as a person, but I’ve also grown through the sport.”
For the longest time, life and sport were constantly interlinked.
The self-doubt that followed her from one meet to the next invariably carried over to her time away from the pool - and vice-versa. “Every year of swimming was a bit different for me, depending on what other events were going on,” said Lefebvre. “There was always a new grade, different friends, different drama, and all of that really affected my performance in swimming.”
“Looking back, I can see where things would be going really well in swimming because things in life we’re going better. When you are doing it, in the moment, it doesn’t feel as great as when you look back. When you get older, you are less hard on yourself. It was a sport, it should be fun.”
Compounding matters, in her particular case, is the fact that Lefebvre so often carried the burden solely on her young shoulders, simply not equipped, just yet, with the ability to properly tap into the support system that surrounded her.
“A lot of the things that I have dealt with, I have not been open to sharing with people,” she said. “There were times when I would have therapy in the middle of the day, so I would go to school in the morning, go to therapy, run to practice. It was things that I wouldn’t talk to people about - this was my own little world.”
“As I got older, I got wiser, I saw it all coming together,” Lefebvre continued. “I became more thankful for the smaller things, being more positive all around. You learn to accept the advice coming from people, realizing that they are sharing it because they care for you.”
It wasn’t as though there was any lack of podium placements at regional and provincial meets that Lefebvre could justifiably celebrate. In March of 2017, she highlighted her club career by qualifying for Olympic Trials in the 1500m freestyle event as a member of the Sudbury Laurentian Swim Club.
“That’s the highest level that you can achieve nationally,” she said. “Going to that swim meet is a different experience. You’re in a warm-up pool with Olympians, swimming in a lane right next to them, sharing the same experience. You can’t be fan-drooling over them - so you remind yourself that you’re worthy of being there, that this is pretty legit.”
“I think we kind of chase that feeling, the pride of going as far as you can.”
Over time, that standard has become enough to sustain the drive of Natalie Lefebvre. Always acknowledged for her work ethic, she developed a greater appreciation for every single accomplishment. “I started living in the moment more and becoming a lot more thankful for the little things.”
Even as she looked back on a year cut short, there were memorable takeaways, moments that still bring a smile to her face. “Last year, I was in my best spot ever,” she admitted. “I was having perfect meets, PBs (personal best times) left and right. At the OUA championships, I was the anchor for our 4 X 50m freestyle relay team - and I’m a distance swimmer.”
“I touched out at 26 and helped us to a podium spot (third place).”
And while there is disappointment inherent in a final year of varsity sports that simply isn’t to be, Lefebvre is more than comfortably moving on to the next chapter. Working with masters swimmers and serving as a personal trainer to others, she would have to alter her course last spring, accepting a student internship with the Greater Sudbury Police Services, diving into a role that is already helping to lay the framework of her entrepreneurial visions.
“I got a student job as a program developer, designed abound health and wellness, helping to develop strategies, rollout health initiatives and such,” she said. And though this undertaking was directed internally, helping staff and their families in so many aspects of their lives - Lefebvre has uploaded more than fifty different helpful guides to the GSPS in-house website, from topics ranging from sleep to nutrition, from stretching to weightlifting - she possesses dreams of a venture that is far more wide-reaching.
“My goal in life is to open my own gym and kind of take away the stigma - I want to diversity the health and fitness industry,” she said. “I’m doing a lot of research on body dysmorphia. I eventually want to open up a gym, but have my own way of running it. I want to find a way to create a more welcoming environment, a safe environment.”
“I see myself as influencing others, changing lives for the better.”