SUNDRE — A local lifeguard who swims with the Innisfail Dolphins was thrilled for the opportunity to plunge back into the competitive world following an extensive pandemic-induced hiatus.
Mackenzie Hickman, who lives on a farm east of Sundre, was among several members of the club who brought home on Saturday, July 17 a bunch of medals from a meet hosted by the Okotoks Stingrays at the Okotoks Recreation Centre.
“It was the first swim meet that we’ve got to have for about two years now,” said Hickman.
The Olds High School student, who will this fall be starting her senior year, said her mom Leila Hickman played a pivotal role in lining up the opportunity.
“My mom really wanted me and my brother and our club to be able to swim in it,” she said.
Generally, swim clubs compete in their own zones until multi-day regional and provincial events are held later in the season, she said.
“But because of how irregular it’s been because of COVID, we haven’t been able to,” she added.
So when Leila learned the Stingrays were organizing a one-day meet, she decided to reach out to the club in Okotoks to inquire about the possibility of accommodating the swimmers from Innisfail, said Mackenzie, adding they ended up agreeing.
“She is a great mom, and I know she would do anything for me and my siblings," she said.
Mackenzie ended up sweeping aside the competition in her age category in all of her events, taking home five gold medals in the 100 metre individual medley, 50 metre backstroke, 50 metre butterfly, 50 metre freestyle (or front crawl), and the 100 metre backstroke.
A talent for swimming seems to run through the family bloodline, as her brother Mason Hickman, 15, also came away with five gold medals in 100 metre freestyle, 200 metre freestyle, 200 metre individual medley, 100 metre individual medley, and 50 metre freestyle.
Many of their fellow club members also performed admirably.
“We had multiple swimmers from different age categories — male and female. A lot of them placed well,” said Mackenzie.
The 16-year-old discovered an unquenchable thirst for swimming early on.
“I’ve been swimming competitively since I was six years old,” she said, adding Leila was also a lifeguard and avid swimmer in her younger days.
“My mom put me in swim club, and I just loved it ever since.”
Although Mackenzie had over the years tried other sports including dance, basketball and volleyball, she found she wasn’t as enthusiastic about those disciplines.
Asked what she prefers about swimming, Mackenzie said, “Personally, I think it requires a lot more attention — if you miss a practice, it creates a huge impact that you don’t really realize until you have to go back to swimming.”
The thrill of racing is also exciting and she especially feels proud after finishing in first place.
Over the past decade, Mackenzie said she frequently competed in as many meets as possible.
“I think I’ve gone to one every single Saturday in the summer time, except for when COVID shut us down,” she said, grateful for the chance to finally be able to compete again.
As for whether there will be any more competitions this year, she wasn’t certain.
“We’ll kind of just have to wait and see what happens,” she said.
Training in Innisfail upward of five days a week for as long as two hours, Mackenzie said she also conditions herself through running and yoga.
Staying active, she said, is important.
“Especially because of how COVID has been affecting people and you haven’t been able to do as many things with sports,” she said. “It’ll just make you feel so much better,” she said about putting effort into exercising.
“Swimming again after I haven’t for so long, I felt like a million dollars after Saturday — better than I felt in a very long time.”