From West Coast to Gold Coast, Ladysmith swimmer Faith Knelson is proudly ready to compete for Canada as the Commonwealth Games get underway Thursday in Australia.
The 16-year-old was named to her first senior team after coming off multiple medals at the FINA World Junior Swimming Championships in Indianapolis last summer.
“To perform at a junior meet, I already have that under my belt and I know how to do that, but to perform at an international games is really exciting but then again it is nerve-wracking,” she said.
“I’m hoping for a final swim and if all goes well maybe even a medal.”
Knelson, who swam with the Ladysmith Chemainus Orcas before moving to Victoria to train at the High Performance Centre, has posted strong results leading into the Games despite suffering a concussion at the Ontario Junior International meet in December.
Prior to the final of the 200 breaststroke, she had a head-on collision with a male swimmer in the warm up pool. The incident took her out of training for the better part of three weeks.
By the middle of January she was back in the pool and racing in Texas and later in Georgia.
Entering the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, where she’ll be rooming with Olympic gold medallist and best friend Penny Oleksiak, Knelson is ranked sixth in the 50 metre breaststroke and and eight in the 100 metre breaststroke.
In both events less than a second separates the rookie phenom from those ranked in the medals despite her being the youngest swimmer on the block. Finals and best times are well within her sites, but Knelson is also hungry for more.
“Standing up against all those girls who have gone to all those other international competitions and this being my first big senior stage, I don’t have anything to lose,” she said. “If any of those girls that I’m racing are capable of getting a medal, well, I’m racing them and I’m capable of getting a medal too…it’s anybody’s game.”
She attributes a lot of her success to Victoria NextGen head coach Brad Dingey and High Performance Centre’s head coach Ryan Mallette.
“I believe that having a strong relationship with your coach can really help you move forward and I feel that’s been really beneficial for me,” she said.
Training alongside the likes of Rio Olympic bronze medallist Hilary Caldwell has also shown her what it takes to be among the best in the world.
“Seeing all the people that have been in the Centre before me, it’s quite humbling and it’s an advantage to see what these people do and what it takes to be one of the best in the world.”
Among the biggest gains Knelson has made over the past year has been in the gym where she’s seeing an increase in strength.
“Even a year ago I couldn’t even do a chin-up and now I do eight reps of four,” she said.
“I see how much effort is put into it and how much it takes and the weight room is just as important as the pool. When you’re a high performance athlete you don’t take time to celebrate your milestones, to celebrate the little things, but now when as I look back on practices and even in the gym, I ‘ve come quite a long way since my time in Ladysmith.”