Olympic trials a 'great experience' for Chalene Ryan
As Chalene Ryan's swimming career and education winds down this spring at Northern Arizona University, the West Kelowna product had one more opportunity to swim alongside her Canadian peers.
Ryan was in Montreal late last month for the Canadian Olympic trials where he competed in the 50, 100, and 200 freestyle as well as the 100 backstroke.
“I’m so happy I went,” said Ryan, 21, who will graduate from the NAU Lumberjacks program with a degree in marketing next month. “It was one of the greatest experiences of my life and I feel so lucky to be able to experience something like that. I feel like it’s an accumulation of the last four years of being in college and being a Lumberjack, and all of that has helped me get to where I am now.”
Ryan's best result at the trials came in the 200 free as she swam a personal best 2:11.02 and broke Sarah Mackay’s girls 15-and-over Liquid Lightning Swim Club record from 2009.
Ryan was able to compete in the trials based on qualifying times achieved this year.
While meets in Wall Aquatic Center—the NAU swimming facility in Flagstaff, AZ.—are swam in short-course meters and most other collegiate pools utilize short-course yards, the Olympic trials were competed on long-course meters, providing an extra challenge for the NAU Olympic hopeful. One of the many benefits of training in Flagstaff, however, is that international teams train on long-course meters in the Wall pool, and Ryan was able to train with them for the month following the WAC Championships.
Ryan also competed in Olympic trials prior to the 2008 Beijing games before coming to NAU, but said the training and experiences she's had as a member of the Lumberjacks made this meet a completely different experience.
“For me it was a lot different because it was pretty much my last competitive meet ever and it was just a totally different atmosphere,” said Ryan, a longtime member of the Liquid Lightning Swim Club in West Kelowna. “It was a lot more serious and I had more of a purpose. It’s way different than anything we ever experience here when you are competing for your country.”
For Ryan, the meet was likely her last competitive racing before she completes her degree and returns home to Canada, though her passion for the sport was brought to a whole new level following the excitement of the trials.
“At this point I’m going to take a bit of a break from swimming so it was kind of hard and really emotional,” she said. “Trials for a lot of people are an emotional roller coaster and it kind of was for me. I had to take everything in stride and I’m just proud of everything I’ve done."
Though she was far from Flagstaff, with the Canadian trials taking place in Montreal, Ryan said she could feel the support of the teammates and coaches.
“It’s nice to have not only teammates but real true friends supporting you,” Ryan said. “There were only four people from my club team that went, so you bond over that but there’s only so much support four people can give you compared to a whole team. At conference everyone is on deck and everyone is cheering and that type of energy is just not the same when the team isn’t there.”
While the team camaraderie may have been absent, witnessing the joy and elation that comes from qualifying for the Olympics was a great sight to see for the NAU swimmer.
“Even if you aren’t in the final and don’t know all the people swimming, you still are just so excited,” said Ryan. “It’s such an amazing atmosphere and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I got goose bumps after every single race.”