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Abu Dhabi UAE

You want to know what 16-hour plane rides feel like? Try flying to Abu Dhabi in the UAE.

December of 2021, a few months after the Olympics, Team Canada travelled to Abu Dhabi for the World Short Course Championships, held in the Etihad Arena. The term ‘short course’ means races are swum in a 25-meter pool, rather than a ‘long course’, or 50-meter pool, similar to track with an indoor and outdoor season. The World Championships alternate each year between short and long course, allowing the best swimmers to essentially race twice as many events. The Olympics and all other international meets are swum long course, so this short course Worlds always turn out to be really fun – it’s our first opportunity to race fast short course in two years.

I kid you not, it felt like we had flown from Earth and landed on a totally different planet. Abu Dhabi is about an hour away from Dubai (another place I’ve always wanted to go), however it’s not as built up or populated, so it really still feels and looks like a desert. You can’t even see the next town or any buildings at all when you look in the distance – just sand dunes… no, really.

But being in a vast desert actually has worked to their advantage. What Abu Dhabi is known for is hosting colossal sporting events, like the World Championships. There is so much open space that the city is able to build these huge, elaborate spectacular sporting venues without worrying about space or any surrounding neighboring communities. Just one week prior to us arriving in Abu Dhabi, an F1 race was held in the Yas Marina Circuit, across the street from the pool. We got to check it out for a few days, and some of the drivers were still training, man do those cars go fast.

And that’s one thing a lot of people may not know about swimming venues. Places like the middle east tend to hold a lot of swim meets, and a brand-new pool is built for each one just a few months before that event. Sometimes they are built on top of basketball courts or concert venues, anywhere that allows for enough spectator seating!

This was my first World Championships, either short course or long course, so why not travel to one of the furthest places so do so. I swam the 400 IM, 200 Butterfly, and 200 Breaststroke. The 400 IM was on the first day of competition. I was so nervous, especially for the prelim swim in the morning. Heats were fast, as expected swimming at Worlds, however I put together a great race, and was seeded 2nd going into finals. I always try to take a nap or close my eyes for a bit between prelims and finals, but I don’t think I slept a wink because I was so excited to get back to the pool and swim it again.

Finals come along; the warmup pool is packed – that was the first challenge. When that happens, the last thing you want to do is stress. You’ve trained all year long to expect the worst on meet day, so I didn’t let that phase me. We are in the ‘ready room’ or marshalling area before we head out on deck to the pool. I have my best friend and other Canadian teammate a few lanes down from me, so I give her the nod and know that everything is going to be okay. We’ve raced together since we were 10 years old, so having her in the first final I make at Worlds helped so much with the nerves. I walk out, take one last deep breath, step on the block, and dive in once the whistle blows. I wish I could tell you anything about how that race felt, I really do, but everyone always says that they never remember their best races – it’s as if their body goes in auto pilot. I touch the wall in first place, swimming a personal best time by 2 seconds. I am ecstatic, I have the biggest smile on my face, I can’t believe I just became a World Champion.

To this day, that was the absolute coolest thing I’ve done in my career, and I think back on it every day. Hearing the national anthem being played for you as you receive your gold medal at the top of the podium will NEVER get old, and I use that as motivation to do it again. Team Canada ended up with 15 medals, one of the most successful World Champions in Canadian history, how cool is that.

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