Parksville’s Nicholas Bennett recently set a new world para swimming record and achieved the feat competing against the world’s best competitors at the 2022 FINA Swimming World Cup.
The 18-year-old, diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder when he was three, usually competes in the S14 category in para swimming. He qualified to compete at the world event and was invited to join Canada and the world’s best at the championships, held recently in Toronto.
Bennett’s coach and sister Hayley said they were on holiday when they receive a call from Swimming Canada.
“We were in California when we heard that he was selected for the world meet,” said Hayley. “We were super surprised and super excited.”
Hayley said they had to cut their vacation a couple of days short to get Nicholas back in the pool because at the time, he was tapering off from months of training at the Ravensong Aquatic Centre in Qualicum Beach.
“He’s a para swimmer but he’s fast enough and is able to compete with people who are not para,” said Hayley. “He has been selected as an alternate before and we were already surprised that he got selected for that.”
Hayley, a former competitive swimmer and assistant coach for Team BC, became Nicholas’s coach full-time when Canadian swimming coach Mike Thompson from the High Performance Centre in Quebec took a leave of absence from the program earlier this year.
The FINA Swimming World Cup was the first major competition Nicholas and Hayley attended together as a team.
“That was exciting for both us,” said Hayley. “He was swimming with (19-time world champion) Katie Ledecky in the same pool with him and he was in the same bus with Kyle Chalmers (world record holder in the 100-metre freestyle). It was unreal, the experience for the both of us. It was amazing because it was such a high-level of competition that we would normally not be a part of because he’s a para swimmer. It was just jaw-dropping.”
Nicholas competed in the 200-metre freestyle and the 200m individual medley at the World Cup in Toronto. In the 200m free preliminaries, Nicholas posted a time of one minute, 51.40 seconds. Although the time was not fast enough to earn him a spot in the final, the time set a new world para swimming record, shattering the previous S14 time of 1:52.49.
In the 200m individual medley, Nicholas was disqualified. But Hayley said his performance at the World Cup was very promising.
“He hasn’t been training for a while and for him to get a best time is really, really a good sign moving forward,” said Hayley. “There were more than 40 swimmers and he finished 29th-30th. So for a para guy placing that high was pretty incredible.”
Having experienced competing in the world event has inspired Nicholas to one day pursue the opportunity of moving up from para swimming. However, Hayley said that will not be a priority for Nicholas at this time. They will focus on qualifying for the World Championships in Manchester, England next year and also the Paris Paralympics in 2024.
Currently, Nicholas is training at the Ravensong pool. Hayley said it’s a challenging situation.
“The pool in Qualicum is so hot because it’s used for therapy and obviously the population here is much older,” Hayley explained. “That’s the biggest thing, the temperature of the water. We have to travel to Nanaimo for him to do long-course because most of the racing he does is long course and the pool in Qualicum is short-course.”