It has been nothing if not a bittersweet few weeks for Sudbury swimmer Nina Kucheran.
Currently training with the Markham Aquatic Club (MAC), Kucheran was informed last month that she had qualified to compete at the Olympic Swimming Trials from May 24th to the 28th, with the meet taking place at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre.
That was not the least bit unexpected. Kucheran has been comfortably ranked in the top ten in the country in both the 100m and 200m breaststroke for a little while now.
The news out of Laurentian University, earlier this week, shutting down the Voyageurs varsity swim team, a decision which greatly affected a number of people that Kucheran holds dear, that she did not see coming.
"Honestly, I was absolutely devasted for everyone that this affects, because it is about so much more than just the current Laurentian students," she said. "It's about the legacy that Phil (L.U. swim coach Phil Parker) has built over the past few decades."
Over the years, Kucheran has always made a point of noting the strength of her relationship with long-time SLSC (Sudbury Laurentian Swim Club) head coach Dean Henze.
Yet the truth is that in so many ways, Parker and Henze have operated hand in hand, an almost unavoidable reality given the fact that both coaches and their swimmers share the same facility, swimming out of the Jeno Tihanyi Olympic Gold Pool.
"Phil has been a part of my swim career since I started at SLSC at the age of eight," Kucheran continued. "He's been there for me, through everything. He is an amazing coach, an amazing person."
"The swimmers just love him. He's done so much for his athletes and has really worked hard to build this program up."
In fact, with her decision to opt out of her third year of varsity swimming at Florida State University - Kucheran has continued her classes, on-line, with FSU and will have an extra year of eligibility tacked on at the end - the 20 year old graduate of College Notre-Dame actually trained with the Laurentian varsity team for the first semester of 2020-2021.
"I realized that I couldn't keep waiting on the hope that our long course pool would open up," noted Kucheran, with the pool facility at Laurentian now having been fully closed for more than a year.
Over Christmas, the decision was made to join forces with MAC, a club with whom Kucheran had swam for some time last summer. "I'm very thankful that my coaches at Florida State were very supportive of my decision not to go back this year," she said.
"With all of the uncertainty regarding quarantining and COVID and everything, and with Olympic Trials this year, I just felt more comfortable sticking closer to home."
In fact, Kucheran has benefitted greatly from what amounts to a team approach to her success in the pool. "I'm very thankful that all of the coaches that I have worked with closely in my lifetime have been very aware of my needs as an athlete and have always worked together to provide me with the best coaching possible," she stated.
"My FSU coaches were in contact with Dean, given how influential he was in my life. And Dean and Sean (Markham head coach Sean Baker) are very close friends, so they go back and forth to maximize what I get out of the water."
"I really feel that I have a lot of people on my side, working with me to try and get the most out of my performance," Kucheran added. "It doesn't feel like three separate units."
Her appearance at the Olympic Trials will mark her second showing at this event, having attended as a 15 year-old back in 2016. "I still remember the feelings of being at Trials for the first time, just super grateful for even being there," she recalled.
"I really wasn't on anyone's radar when I was there. I pulled off one B final, came in 20th and was super excited about it. I was just trying to soak in the experience. I knew that I wasn't going to make the Olympic team, but remember being really inspired."
"That was really cool for me."
Five years later, things are notably different. "In normal times, Swimming Canada would release a list of standards showing just how fast you have to be to make the Olympic Trials cut," Kucheran explained.
This time around, running finals only with no preliminary races, a field of twenty were selected for every event. "When that news came out, nothing really changed for me," she suggested.
"I knew that I had posted some really good times (at FISU 2019 and the US Open meet) and they were taking times from the past year and a half."
Still, she enters as something of a long shot. Canada will take the top two finishers in each event, assuming they have also met the FINA A standard. That could be a reach.
Improbable? Perhaps. Impossible? Not a chance.
"If you're a swimmer and you have water, you have a chance," said Kucheran.
And she does have a chance - which is more that can be said said for her fellow swimmers at Laurentian University, friends that she had come to know all too well.