Olympic swimmers share their stories

Scott Dickens and Brent Hayden inspire young athletes over the weekend.

Canadian Olympic swimmers Scott Dickens (left) and Brent Hayden (right) sign autographs for young athletes representing swim clubs from Cranbrook

Two Canadian Olympic swimmers got in the pool with local swimmers from around the region this weekend, as Brent Hayden and Scott Dickens shared their experiences of competing at the highest levels.

The Triton Swim Club hosted the two, and invited swimmers from around the region to be a part of training sessions at the Aquatic Centre in Western Financial Place on Saturday and Sunday.

Dickens and Hayden shared some technical tips in freestyle and breaststroke swimming, and gave a presentation on what it takes to compete at the highest level of international competition.

Hayden brought along his bronze hardware from the 2012 London Olympics, while Dickens showcased his gold medal from the 2007 Pan American Games to the throng of young athletes.

Hayden announced his retirement after the London Games, and Dickens is currently in the process of stepping away from competitive swimming, confirming that he isn’t aiming for a spot at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Though both are moving away from their respective sports, it gives them the time to do things they enjoy, like visiting swim clubs across the province—both currently reside in Vancouver—to pass along their knowledge gained from high level competition.

“It’s been a privilege to come to these communities and give back to the kids because we never had this opportunity when we were growing up,” said Hayden. “We never had Olympians come in and share their stories so a lot of the stuff that we’ve experienced, we’ve had to learn it as we went along, we weren’t really prepared for a lot of stuff, so I think being able to give these kids the tools and inspiration at an earlier age and get that fire inside burning just a little bit—I think that’s what we’re here for, and teach them some technique at the same time.”

Both Dickens and Hayden know that their presence as living, breathing Olympians serves as inspiration for the young swimmers, and along with technical tips, the two talked about mental strength, believing in yourself and keeping an open mind.

“We let them know that we’re still learning today,” said Dickens. “In sport and life, you never stop learning and there’s always something new and a way to do things better. They have to be open to change and doing something differently because that’s how they’re going to get better.”

Hayden added he learned how to become a better swimmer through his defeats rather than his victories.

“When you win, you don’t really have anything to change, but when you are defeated, you realize there that you got to fix something,” he said.

Part of being an elite athlete is the ability to face and overcome adversity, a theme that both brought up in a presentation to the kids on Sunday.

For Dickens, he had to struggle with the frustration of missing the cut for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, after making his first appearance with the national swim team four years earlier in Athens.

“It was really hard for me because I was expected to make the team, I was expected to go and represent my country and I had to learn how to get back,” said Dickens.

After an eight-year hiatus from the Olympics, he earned his way back onto the national swim team for the 2012 London Games.

“The eight-year gap from 2004-2012 was really hard but its living proof that by sticking with it and believing in myself, I got back to the Olympic Games,” Dickens added.

For Hayden, it took three Olympic appearances before he finally made the podium, earning a bronze medal in the 100-metre freestyle in London, a moment that he describes as the proudest in his career.

“Going again, that’s perseverance, that’s never giving up and never taking your eye off the goal and it really just capped off my career in the best possible way that I could’ve asked for,” Hayden said.

After London, Hayden retired from swimming, but he still wants to give back and work with swim clubs across the province and even the country. Hayden is also married, and putting in a lot of work to get his professional photography career off the ground.

Dickens hasn’t officially announced any retirement plans, however, he isn’t training as hard as he has in the past, as Olympic-year preparations put his body through a lot of wear and tear.

“I trained harder than I ever did last year and put so much weight on my body with lifting in the weight room that my knees especially are feeling it this year,” Dickens said. “Looking ahead four years, I know for a fact that my body would not hold up so right now I’m using this year to kind of say goodbye to the sport personally, because it’s been my whole life since I was six and I’m 28 now.”

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