The West Vancouver Otters Swim Club has a lot to celebrate after two of their athletes were named to Team Canada for the upcoming 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio.
On Sunday Nathan Clement was pegged for the Canadian Paralympic team while Emily Overholt earned a spot on the Olympic team following the Swimming Canada trials held last week in Toronto. They are the first two Otters to make it to the Olympic or Paralympic Games since Andrea Moody swam in the 4x100-metre relay at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.
“Everybody is ecstatic,” said head coach Janusz Kaczmarek. “Our club is quite small compared to other leading clubs across Canada. Specifically our facility is not one of the best but it is a pool with water – that’s all it takes. We’re extremely proud.”
Overholt, who graduated from West Vancouver’s Collingwood School last summer, became a national sensation when she won bronze, silver and gold medals at the Pan American Games in Toronto before claiming a bronze medal in the 400-metre individual medley in her first-ever appearance at the FINA World Championships.
“Four years ago Emily was only 14 years old and she was showing great progress to be on the junior national team,” said Kaczmarek. “We thought about four years down the road perhaps making the Olympic team, but making plans for four years and actually making the Olympic team are two very different things.”
Overholt’s already shiny resume should make her a team leader in Rio. For Clement, however, just making the team was no sure thing. He was on the bubble coming into the trials and needed to put up fast times to boost his world ranking into the top-10 for his classification group.
On Sunday night all of the Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls gathered at the pool, waiting to hear from the Swimming Canada coaches.
“Everyone was on their phones, constantly refreshing their screens to see if they’d gotten an email or not,” he said. Finally a message popped into his inbox, welcoming him to the team.
“Relief!” Clement said, of what that moment felt like. “All that stress you’ve built up, built up, built up – in that one moment you get that email, it’s gone. It’s just relief. … It’s still kind of sinking in a little bit. It’s been a long road and I just can’t wait for the road ahead.”
Kaczmarek remembers the day that Clement – who suffered a stroke when he was two years old and swims with dystonia, which affects his ability to use his left limbs – first contacted him about becoming a member of the team.
“He approached me and he goes, ‘Mr. Kaczmarek, is there any chance I can join the Otters swim club,’” he said with a laugh. Clement, 21, is now the team’s captain.
“Nathan is such a stand-up guy,” said Kaczmarek. “He’s the team captain and his perseverance and his personality is so outstanding, and him being rewarded to make the Paralympic team is just phenomenal.”
Clement, who has competed for Canada before, most recently at the World Championships and Para Pan Am Games in 2015, can’t wait to put on a Maple Leaf cap again.
“It’s an incredible feeling being able to go out there and race with a Maple Leaf on your head and Maple Leaf on your leg on your suit. It just takes you to a whole new level,” he said. “At times like these, when you get nominated to a Paralympic or Olympic team, there’s a lot of people you need to thank. I just want to say pretty well thank you to anyone who has supported me through this journey to get to this point. And for those athletes and people with disabilities who aren’t sure about getting into para sports or are looking for something to do and have a dream they want to accomplish, the road is always going to have peaks and valleys but as long as you stick through it and are able to do the work, the results always turn out to be a great feeling.”
This story has been updated from its original version. Clement and Overholt are not the first members of the West Vancouver Otters Swim Club to make an Olympic or Paralympic team. Andrea Moody swam with Canada's team in the 4x100-metre freestyle relay at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Her team finished seventh.