A very natural athlete right out of the gate, Nina Kucheran recognized, pretty quickly, that there was something special going on when it came to swimming. "We were at a meet in Etobicoke in my second year, and I swam the 100m breaststroke," noted the 13 year old student at Ecole Felix-Ricard.
"When we finished, I had a good time, a personal best, but I didn't really know what was a good time. Then my coach came over and said that I missed provincials by 0.2 seconds," said Kucheran.
That ultra-rapid progression, in just over a year, proved to be a sign of things to come. As she completes her grade 8 studies as well as her sixth year of competitive swimming, Kucheran ranks among the very best in the country, in her age group, in the breaststroke.
It wasn't always this way. Accustomed to swimming lessons, but frustrated in not being able to move up the ladder quickly enough (she was too young to be moved ahead), Kucheran made a bee-line over to the Sudbury Laurentian Swim Club, immersing herself into competitive swimming at exactly the same time that older sister EmmyLou also joined the club.
A change in mindset would be needed. "Looking back, I barely knew how to swim," said Kucheran. "It was really hard for the first month or so. I was exhausted after every practice. But then you get used to it."
"You get better, and your endurance gets better, and the practices get easier." That said, competitive swimming is nothing if not a matter of extended repetition, building up mileage that can weigh on even the most determined young athlete, doing lap after lap while staring at the bottom of the pool.
Kucheran not only survives - she thrives in this environment. "I like doing things that I'm good at, and I'm good at swimming," she explained. "I like when I have a good race. For me, when I'm training, that's the motivation."
It seems to be working - big time. Qualifying for Age Group Nationals in three events in 2013, Kucheran had already hit five AGN standards before the end of the calendar year, targetting a goal of medalling at the countrywide meet some day.
Unfortunately, that type of single-minded goal setting comes at a cost. "I kind of want to do everything, so this is really hard," said Kucheran. "I like swimming, I like running, but I like volleyball a lot too. But I had to choose this year."
"Last year, I had the chance to do more sports, because I was in a lower level," Kucheran continued. "But I moved up a level this year." Representing St Dominique through to the end of grade six, the talented teenager still dons the Felix Ricard colours for cross country and track & field meets, where regular practice sessions do not conflict with her strict swimming regimen.
But as she targets the qualifying standard for Senior Nationals, an event where the age of the athlete is irrelevant, time outside the pool will become increasingly precious. And given her talent in the pool, one can hardly fault Nina Kucheran for maintaining her focus in the water.
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