Olympic swimmer makes waves

The path won’t be easy, but if you dream big, never give up, and do what you want to do in life, you can achieve anything.

This was the message Canadian Olympic swimmer Scott Dickens gave to students at McGirr Elementary Friday afternoon during an impromptu assembly.

“There’s a difference between quantity and quality, and you can try super hard in life and do everything to the extreme, but unless you’re doing it the right way, then you won’t quite get there,” he said.

“It’s not going to be easy, but life isn’t supposed to be easy.”

Dickens, of Burlington, Ont., broke his Canadian record in the men’s 100-metre breaststroke during the 2012 Olympic Games in London, and finished eighth in the semifinal heat (16th overall). Prior to that, he won his first national title at the 2004 Canadian Olympic trials, and went on to compete in the 2004 Olympics, where he finished 19th.

Dickens told the students the story of his entire career, from his experiences at the 2004 Games, to the crushing defeat of not making the 2008 Olympic trials, despite coming into it ranked first in the country in his category.

“I didn’t know that my path to success was going to be as up and down as it was,” he said.

He said his doubts played a big role in his performance during the 2008 Olympic trials.

“I started worrying about all my competitors and worrying about what they were doing,” he said. “I couldn’t wait for it to be over because I was scared I wasn’t going to make the team … That fear held me back.”

Following the 2008 trials, Dickens was scheduled to make an appearance at an Ontario elementary school. He admits it took him a few days to decide whether or not to go.

But it was their enthusiasm and ‘never give up’ attitude that inspired him to just keep swimming.

The 6’5” swimmer has been swimming since he was six years old, and has tried out for the Olympics a total of four times. In his first time, at the age of 15, he recalled coming in dead last.

He first got into swimming because it was fun and encouraged the students to hold onto their strongest passions, even as they age.

“I have just as much fun today as I did when I was six years old,” he said. “I had to realize that holding on to that passion is what led me to the 2012 Olympics.”

He said the best lessons he’s learned in life have not been from his successes, but his mistakes.

“I don’t look back on all the medals I’ve won and the places I’ve been, I look back at the lessons I’ve learned, and those life lessons are going to take me to where I want to be in life.”

During a question period after Dickens’ speech, students asked dozens of questions, which covered everything from, ‘if you didn’t go into swimming, what sport would you choose’, ‘how high can you jump’, to ‘how many hours of training do you do’ and ‘how do you keep your skin from wrinkling in the water.’

The students were most surprised to hear that Dickens’s swimming regimen included 26 to 30 hours of swimming a week, during which time he would consume about 8,000 calories of healthy foods a day.

When asked if he would compete in another Olympics, Dickens said he wasn’t sure at this time, as it is a four-year commitment.

After the session, students gathered around to get autographs and high fives from the Olympian.

“He’s really inspired me,” said Kassandra Richardson, a Grade 6 student, who dreams of a career in singing and dancing. “He’s showed us that even if things are going wrong and down, there’s always a chance of hope.”

Zach Taylor, Grade 6, said the lesson he took away from the speech was quality over quantity.

“There were a lot of really good messages like that and it gives us hope,” he said. “You can try really hard, and never give up.”

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