By Marissa Tiel
A Kelowna swimmer will continue her career south of the border next fall. Axana Merckx signed her letter of intent with the University of Arizona Wildcats last week.
Even though her freshman year is months away, the 17-year-old is looking forward to her collegiate swimming career.
“I’m definitely excited to train with great athletes,” says Merckx, currently a senior at Aberdeen Hall Preparatory School.
While looking for universities, Merckx got in contact with the Wildcats swimming program’s head coach, Augie Busch.
“I instantly fell in love with the program and everything he was talking about,” she says.
She had been looking at a number of schools south of the border, but after a late September visit to the Tucson campus, she knew she’d found the right fit.
“I just fell in love with Arizona and I didn’t need to look any further,” she says. “I’m really grateful for the head coach, Augie, and the rest of the team for being so welcome and open to me and I’m really looking forward to being a Wildcat.”
Merckx will be studying international relations in the fall with plans to attend law school.
She was born in Belgium, so she’ll be able to choose between competing for Canada or for her birth country at the Olympics, which she hopes to attend in 2024. Paris will be the host of those Games and she may follow in her father’s footsteps. Cyclist Axel Merckx won a bronze medal for Belgium at the 2004 Athens Olympics in the road race. Her grandfather, Eddy, is widely considered to be the greatest cyclist of all time, with 525 victories to his name.
But Merckx doesn’t just get her athletic genes from her father’s side, her mother, Jodi Cross competed at a high level in triathlon and cycling. Merckx says that her parents are her inspiration and her role models.
“They know what it takes to become an athlete and they are so supportive and so understanding,” she says. “They’re always there and always have my back.”
Merckx’s younger sister Athina is also an athlete; she competes in soccer and swimming.
Merckx, who specializes in the individual medley and backstroke events, began swimming competitively 10 years ago. Her family moved to Kelowna in 2007 and she joined the Kelowna AquaJets.
“Throughout these years I’ve learned a lot about myself and my capabilities,” she says.
Individual medley, her speciality, combines all four strokes into one event.
“It’s a lot harder than it sounds,” she says. “Just because you switch strokes doesn’t make it any easier.”
Merckx spends time with the younger athletes in the club. “They look up to me in a way and I really want to be a role model for them,” she says.
The competitive swimming season started a few months ago and Merckx is on track for a successful year.
“I’ve definitely been happy, but not overly happy,” she says. “I’m definitely where I was last year, and I have set some pretty lofty goals for this season.”
Among them, Merckx is aiming to hit some target times set by Swimming Canada that would show she’s on track for the Olympics. She favours longer events that offer a chance for her endurance to shine. She is the 2018 B.C. Provincial Long Course 400-metre IM champion, short course 100-metre backstroke champion and the short course 200-metre backstroke champion.
Merckx’s next competition will be mid-December, when she joins the B.C. provincial team in Toronto for the Ontario Junior International Swim Meet.
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