Maple Creek News
Shelby Newkirk made the national team for the first time this past April.
She turned 21 years old in June.
At the tail end of September, she lost a chance to compete at her first major international competition.
And as of the first week of October, she is a world record holder.
Newkirk broke the record last week at the Para-swimming Canadian Open in Toronto swimming in her absolute favourite event — the 100m backstroke.
Her time of 1 minute, 21.43 seconds was good enough to shave 0.17 seconds of the former record, held by German swimmer Kirsten Bruhn.
“I honestly don’t know if it’s even sunk in yet,” Newkirk told the News-Times. “I was definitely really excited about it — after 50 metres there was a big clock at the head of pool, and I could see what my time was.
“I was like, ‘OK, I can do this, I just really need to push it.’ I got to the wall and I couldn’t quite see (the time) but I thought that I had gotten it … then everyone was congratulating me and telling me that I got (the record).
“I was just really excited and really tired at the same time; it was just kind of a whirlwind of everything happening at once.”
‘Whirlwind’ is an appropriate term to describe more than the moments following Newkirk’s record, as the entire event didn’t even exist two weeks earlier.
Newkirk and Team Canada were to compete at the World Para Swimming Championships in Mexico City starting on Sept. 30, but the devastating earthquake suffered in that country not long before caused its postponement until November.
For a few reasons — notably the commitment by athletes to leading regular lives with regular-scheduled responsibilities, and the fact the team had spent weeks training at high altitudes for the original dates — Team Canada cannot attend the competition. But Swimming Canada stepped up and put together the Toronto event in short order, bringing in Team Australia and a top American swimmer to compete alongside the Canadians.
“We flew in just two days before the event,” Newkirk said. “Swimming Canada was awesome in getting things going right away and organizing everything.
“It was definitely a little hard changing plans so fast, and since this was my first (meet with the national team), I was kind of disappointed to not be able to go, but obviously the focus had to be for Mexico to deal with a natural disaster. And I was happy we were able to have an alternate meet.”
Newkirk was clearly able to switch her focus back to competition mode in time for Toronto. She swam in five events total, saying she was happy with her overall effort in all her swims. But the 100m backstroke is her specialty, and she knew going in that she had a chance at the record, regardless of the fact she had just spent seven weeks training at high altitude.
“It’s my best stroke,” she said. “After my swim in the Pan-Am Championships back in April, I was within a second (of the world record), and that’s when I broke the American record and Canadian record, so I knew I was close.
“I just needed to focus on my game plan and getting it done.”
She’s had that mindset from day one.
Newkirk lives and trains in Saskatoon, but her father’s family hail from Maple Creek. The 21-year-old star athlete was diagnosed with dystonia at 13, a progressive neurological movement disorder that forced her to change her life entirely. But while dry ground sports were now out of the question, Newkirk found something when she entered the pool. Something she not only loves with a determined passion but is also — obviously — world-class at.
In fact, she’s already earned what many would call a lifetime of achievements in the pool, but Newkirk remains grounded. She’s focused and determined, and a world record is not shifting her ultimate goals in the sport.
“I’m definitely not finished,” she says. “I’m going to take three weeks off just to let my body recuperate, then myself and (my coaches) are going to sit down and figure out a plan for where we’re going from here.
“The goal is still (the Paralympics in) Tokyo 2020, and I’m going to keep pushing hard to get there.”
While the News-Times is no expert in para-swimming, we’re pretty sure they invite world record holders to the Olympics.
PHOTOS COURTESY SWIMMING CANADA
Newkirk checks the clock after touching the wall following a race.