VANCOUVER - Brent Hayden may no longer be swimming competitively, but you had to know the lanky kid out of Mission, who grew into a world champion and Olympic bronze medalist, wouldn’t stray far from the pool.
He retired after earning that bronze in the 100-metre freestyle at London last August and didn’t pull on his Speedo for a month before working back into a two-day-a-week schedule “just to keep that healthy lifestyle going.
“I’ve been coaching swim clinics and doing public speaking,” Hayden, 29, said Tuesday after being a B.C. Sports Hall of Fame inductee, class of 2013. “I was just in the Northwest Territories last week for a six-day tour in Hay River and Yellowknife.
“I did clinics with the swim clubs there, went around to the schools. Just tried to relay my message to as many kids as possible. If you can try and inspire as many as you can, there might just be that one kid in the crowd somewhere that will hopefully one day be in their respective Hall of Fame.”
A UBC grad who has swum all over the world, Hayden was making his first trip to that part of the Canada.
“First time north of 60 and they give me a nice certificate commemorating it. A pretty official looking certificate, the Order of Arctic Adventurers I believe it’s called. Being that far north and being exposed to the weather and the temperatures up there, it just kind of made me feel a little bit more Canadian.”
One of the swim coaches at the Hay River clinic, Karen Zaidan, told the local paper Hayden was very hands on and motivational.
“We had a practice the next day and my son, Josh, said to me, ‘Mom, I feel faster in the water. Do you think I could swim in the Olympics one day?’”
Hayden, a genial and humble friendly giant with a shaved head, won gold at the 2007 world championships in his speciality, the 100-metre freestyle, when he tied for the best time with Italy’s Filippo Magnini. It was Canada’s first gold at a world aquatics championship in 21 years.
He stumbled a year later at the Beijing Olympics, failing to even make the final, but came back at the London 2012 Games last August to earn a bronze medal in what might have been his gutsiest swim ever. At 28, he was the oldest man in the field by five years.
Hayden will be formally inducted Sept. 19 at the Hall’s 45th annual Banquet of Champions at the Vancouver Convention Centre.
(Editor's Note: Induction into the BC Swimming Hall of Fame requires that an athlete be retired for at least two years prior to nomination.)
Interestingly, he’ll be joined that night by some pioneers of B.C. swimming, with the 1965 Ocean Falls Swim Club earning induction in the team category. The four males on that team out of a tiny, isolated B.C. north coast mill town all earned scholarships at U.S. colleges and two, Sandy Gilchrist and Ralph Hutton, went on to swim in multiple Olympics.
The team’s training facility, built in 1928 from beer parlor profits, was an indoor 20-yard, four-lane pool, about a quarter of the size of a standard international pool.
“Let’s face it, there was only one or two others (that size) in the entire country,” Jack Kelso, who went on to become an NCAA champion at the University of Denver, said at a news conference Tuesday. “But we were always setting Canadian records.
“We were world level (swimmers) coming out of there. A lot of people wanted us to swim for them. I was recruited by four different universities.”
Hayden, who heard all about the Ocean Falls club from his university swim coach, Tom Johnson, said it’s a treat to go into the Hall with some legends of the pool. “They should have been in a long time ago.”
Hayden said his own induction caught him a bit by surprise.
“It’s just such a huge honor. I definitely didn’t think it would come this quickly.”
Hayden’s world championship win came just days after the passing of his grandfather. During a hospital visit just before leaving for the meet, he promised his grandfather he’d win a medal.
“I didn’t say what color. And when I walked out on the pool deck, I wasn’t the fittest swimmer, the strongest, or the most talented. But that promise I made to my grandfather gave me more determination to get my hand on the wall than any of the other swimmers there. In the last 50 metres, when your body just wants to tell you to stop because it hurts so much, I just thought of my grandfather and swam into the wall as hard as I could.”
He admits the pressure of being the reigning world champion affected him in Beijing. But he dug deep in London and insists the bronze feels very much like gold.
Right after London, Hayden travelled to Lebanon where he married his fiancé, Nadina, a Lebanese-Canadian pop singer who released her first album in November.
“The wedding was amazing . . . really our dream wedding,” says Hayden. “During the reception, she came in on a boat and they had fireworks out on the water for her. If you don’t have fireworks, it’s not a very good wedding in Lebanon, let me tell you that.”
A keen photographer, Hayden continues to work on developing that passion into a career. And he and Nadina have a long-term goal to one day open a private swim school.
“I don’t know if I could do a real job,” says Hayden with a laugh. “I’m almost 30 years old and never had a real job.”
2013 B.C. SPORTS HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES
Kevin Alexander, lacrosse
Led Victoria teams to one Minto Cup junior title and two Mann Cup senior titles. Scored 797 goals and added 584 assists in 300 career senior games.
Dawn Coe-Jones, golf
The Lake Cowichan product, a two-time B.C. women’s amateur champion, won three LPGA titles and accumulated more than $3.3 million in earnings in a 25-year pro career.
Brent Hayden, swimming
A 2007 world champion in the 100-metre freestyle, Mission’s Hayden was also a three-time Olympian, capping his career with a bronze at London in 2012.
Robert ‘Ro’ Hindson, rugby
The towering, 6-foot-5 Hindson was one of Canada’s best all-round rugby players, earning 31 international caps, including two at the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987.
Peter Reid, triathlon
A Montreal native who moved to Victoria to further his career, Reid is a three-time world champion, including in 1998 when he was named Canada’s athlete of the year.
Kathy Shields, basketball
Coached the University of Victoria women’s team to eight national titles between 1978-2001, earning CIS coach of the year three times. Also coached senior national women’s team.
Ken Shields, basketball
The other half of the husband and wife coaching duo, Shields won a CIS title with the 1969-70 UBC women’s team, then coached the Victoria men’s team seven straight national titles. Also coached the senior men’s national team.
1965 Ocean Falls Swim Club
Swimming out of a tiny, isolated company town on the B.C. coast, the five swimmers won the last of four straight national titles in 1965. One of the group, Ralph Hutton, swam in three Olympics, winning a silver medal in 1968.
Larry Kwong, hockey
The Vernon native was the first player of Asian descent to play in the NHL when he suited up for one game with the New York Rangers in 1948. Later enjoyed a stellar career in the highly regarded Quebec Senior Hockey League
Larry Isaac, TV producer
The Coquitlam resident’s 35-year career included a decade at Hockey Night in Canada. He also produced swimming, cycling, soccer, golf and tennis shows and worked eight Olympics for the World Host Broadcast Feed.
W.A.C. BENNETT AWARD
The big Irishman was a player, coach and general manager in the NHL and now is a co-owner of junior hockey’s Vancouver Giants. Coached four Canadian teams to world titles, including men’s gold at the 2002 Olympics.