Individual achievements, within a variety of sporting fields, are always a lot of fun to celebrate.
Sharing those accomplishments with others embedded with that same passion for athletic excellence, well, that takes these moments to a whole other level.
The recent Canadian Swimming Championships in Montreal was the setting for dreams to be made for no less than three members of the Sudbury Laurentian Swim Club contingent, including a gentleman who need not even set foot in the water.
Things happened quickly for the local crew, when Nina Kucheran torched a five-second PB in the 200m breaststroke early on, a clocking that seeded her ahead of Olympian Sydney Pickrem entering the final.
And while she would settle for second place in the end, the breakthrough proved special for the grade 12 Collège Notre-Dame swimmer who leaves in September for her sophomore year with the Florida State Seminoles.
“That time, that race, everything combined, was hands down the most amazing moment of my life,” said Kucheran. “Dropping five seconds, at my age, at this level, is tough. I haven't dropped five seconds in a 200m since I was like 12 years old.”
That said, there is no reason to believe this is a one-off. In fact, it may just be the beginning. “For the past few years, I've been training at that level to be able to go around this time,” she said. “But there's always been a bunch of little factors (injuries and such) that have gotten in the way of my training blocks.”
“I think one of the reasons I was able to take off that much time was because for the past five months, I've had no interruptions, nothing to disturb me,” Kucheran continued. “It's been just solid really good training.”
Thankfully, the reward went well beyond a new personal best time. For her efforts, Kucheran was rewarded with a spot on the national junior team that will compete in Fiji in August at the Junior Pan-Pacific Championships.
“I've been trying to make that team for the past three years,” she said. “I've been working for so long to have this happen. I couldn't be more excited to represent Canada. Usually, I am done training at the end of July. I'm totally OK with not having much of a social life this summer, if it means I get to train and work my butt off to represent my country at Pan-Pacs.”
The trip that awaits her became that much more special within a matter of days when Kucheran's long-time SLSC coach, Dean Henze, was named to the staff of the team. “It's a big deal for me because it's been a while since I've been on a national tour,” noted Henze, who coached with the national blind team in Madrid roughly two decades ago, and also helped out with the Youth Olympics in 2002.
The takeaways of this experience are every bit as critical for the man who is nearing the completion of his ninth season at the helm of SLSC, as it is for the athletes under his watch. “There's a ton of Olympic and International experience on staff that I am looking forward to working with,” said Henze. “I've know a lot of these guys for a long time, but it's different spending two weeks with them, when you get to talk only swimming.”
“And having a chance to work with the best young athletes in the entire country,” he added. “You always learn stuff working with good kids.” Yet as much as the native of Atikokan has enjoyed the opportunity to mentor some very talented teens in years gone by, there is something almost unique to the young lady hoping to make a mark on the NCAA landscape next year.
“As the bar rises for my swimmers, so does mine,” he said. “But she (Kucheran) keeps making me reach my bar into places that, quite honestly, I don't think anyone else in the country has done. She does stuff in training that I am not convinced there's a lot of people that can do. That combination of intensity and volume in practice – she can do training sets that are kind of unheard of with other top end coaches.”
It wasn't just Kucheran whose light shone brightly in Montreal. Enjoying a breakthrough swim of her own, Abby McDonald would place fourth in the 200m butterfly. “It was my first Senior Nationals, my first really high performance meet,” noted the 17 year old grade 11 student at Marymount Academy. “And basically, I did not swim last year (due to injury).”
“Coming into this year, my goal was by April, to get back to where I was before I was injured. And then I pulled out this performance. I was so stunned and so happy with it.” Ironically, any misgivings about what exactly she was capable of likely had far less to do with her overall physical preparation, and far more to do with her mental state of mind in this setting.
“I know how to race, I've been racing for nine years now,” she said. “You have to take the fact that it's such a high performance meet out of the mix. I've made that mistake before, where I get too into it, and then the race kind of goes out the door because of that. I just needed to remind myself: you've prepared for this, you know what to do.”
Interestingly enough, McDonald now points to her injury as a catalyst to her current success. “When I got injured, as much as it was horrible, not being able to swim, it was probably one of the best things that ever happened to my swim career. I have a whole new love for the water. I look forward to coming to practice. I have a lot more fun with it.”
And sharing the accomplishments with those who are at her side, through countless workouts a week, well that's simply an added bonus.