Horns, whistles and team chants are echoing from every direction. The room is hot and stuffy, and smells of chlorine and sweat. The viewing area is packed full of proud moms and devoted girlfriends and boyfriends.
Swimming teams from 12 different schools across the province have gathered in the nation’s capital at the University of Ottawa this weekend, to compete in the OUA swimming Championships.
The giant room in the Montpetit Hall has an eight lane, 50 meter pool in its center, with athletes hurdled around it shouting words of encouragement and support to their teammates in the water. This is both an overwhelming and encouraging environment.
The whistle blows. “Take your mark,” is heard on the intercom, followed by a loud monotonous beep, and all eight swimmers dive into the water with practiced ease.
One strong, almost violent, arm stroke after another. Feet kicking with madness to inch further, faster, stronger. One gulp of air to keep them going. I can almost feel how fast their heart must be beating, how their chest must be hurting from the restrained breath and desperate motions.
Watching these swimmers race to be first by throwing their entire body into it is both mesmerizing and impressive.
Margot Cunningham, the Captain of the University of Toronto’s Varsity Blues, says she has been swimming competitively for 13 years.
The 21-year-old’s hair is curly and she is still wearing her swimsuit underneath her blue “Toronto Varsity Blues” shirt.
“I swim because I love the team aspect,” she says. “All of my friends are on this team, and we are always cheering each other on.”
When not in the water, Cunningham studies Biological Anthropology and has volunteered with the MS Society. Her favourite professional athlete is Michael Phelps, the famous American Olympian swimmer who earned a total of 22 medals.
“We are fighting to get the title, today,” Cunningham says. “As competitive swimmers, we work extremely hard and use our entire bodies to get through the water. It’s like nothing else.”
She nods to the loud scene behind us with a smile and says, “listen to that in there, that’s why I do this.”
Toronto’s Varsity Blues are looking to retain the OUA championship banner after ending a five-year title drought last season.
As a team, Toronto has already won gold at the Stratten Division Championships this season, and has two swimmers aiming for their fourth-consecutive individual gold medals.