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For most athletes, reaching the top is not easy and nobody knows that better than Canadian swimming sensation Brent Hayden.
In fact, he faced and overcame one of the biggest challenges in his competitive career just before the 2012 Olympics in London.
“I was in my room and my back was in a spasm and for four days I couldn’t walk. I thought I was going to have to retire before the Olympics even started,” recalled Hayden, who went on to win the bronze medal in the 100-metre freestyle. “I’m here today to give back to the swimming community and to give the kids the tools they need in order to perform not only to become great swimmers but inspire them to become great people.”
Hayden, who is originally from Mission and now lives in the Lower Mainland, was in Penticton last weekend with his wife Nadina Zarifeh conducting a two-day aquatic camp hosted by the Penticton Pikes.
Members of the Pikes, KISU and Summerland’s Orca teams took part in the pool and dry-land sessions.
The technical training was important but it was the emotional components the 30-year-old Olympian hoped to help his young students with.
“I tell them my story so they realize it wasn’t easy, I wasn’t born a great athlete. I had to work hard at it but the most important thing was to always have fun and I took that all the way from when I was a little kid to the Olympics,” said Hayden. “I’m trying to use my story to empower them so they realize they can achieve anything if they don’t get discouraged and keep their hearts and minds focused.”
Those aspects were critical to him after the 2004 games in Athens when it looked like his first Olympics would be his last.
In addition to not doing well in the pool, the six-foot-four Hayden was assaulted and arrested by riot police in a case of mistaken identity.
“It was a very emotional time for me and I almost quit swimming after that,” he said.
But keeping his eyes on the prize, and with the help of many others, he stuck with it.
Thirteen-year-old Ben Say, a member of the Penticton Pikes, was among the kids who signed on for the course and at the end of the two days was glad he did.
“It was really awesome. I learned tons. Did every stroke which is good for improving,” said Say. “He (Hayden) was always positive. Really good coach. He watched every single person at this camp and gave them feedback. It was super cool to be coached by someone who had been in the Olympics.”
Hayden intends to build his future around helping kids.
“I don’t want to be another swimmer who just did good,” he said. “I was a young swimmer once too and I understanding the role
I am in now.”