By Jim Morris
VANCOUVER – Sometimes in life stuff happens. It’s how a person copes with these different situations that can help shape their future.
Noemie Thomas (UBCDS) was thrown one of life’s curves last summer.
As a 17-year-old, Thomas had reached the finals in the 100-metre butterfly at the 2013 FINA World Championships. She looked a lock to represent Canada at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and Pan Pacific Championships until she sprained an ankle about a month before the trials. With her training disrupted Thomas failed to qualify for either team.
It could have been a crushing blow to the confidence of a young swimmer. Instead, Thomas learned from the experience.
“Stuff happens and you have to deal with it in life,” the now-19-year-old said with a smile.
“The biggest thing I learned is . . . times on the scoreboard don’t affect who I am as a person and don’t take away from the training I’ve done. I’ve learned, even though you put hard work in and it doesn’t show up at the time you wanted it to, it’s not wasted hard work. It will eventually turn up. The training I did even after the ankle injury . . . that still contributed to my trials performance this year.”
Any questions about Thomas’s ability to put last year’s disappointment behind her were answered at the 2015 Team Canada Trials in April. She won a spot on the Canadian squad that will compete at the Pan Am Games in Toronto July 10-26 and the FINA World Championships July 24-August 9 in Kazan, Russia.
Thomas won the 100-m butterfly, edging Katerine Savard of Pont-Rouge, Que., then finished second in the 200-m fly behind two-time Olympian Audrey Lacroix of Pont-Rouge. She credits the support of family, friends and coaches with helping her cope with last year’s setback. As painful as the experience was, it could prove a building block in her career.
“Every year brings different challenges for me,” said Thomas. “I wouldn’t be the same person now if I didn’t go through those things.
“I’m more of an experienced swimmer. If I look back at myself three or four years ago, I didn’t really have to go against any real difficult things in my swimming career. Going through those things is what every successful athlete has to go through.”
Thomas’s career took another step last winter.
After developing her skills under coach Tom Johnson at the High Performance Centre – Vancouver, she was recruited by the University of California Berkeley. Besides the opportunity to swim with people like Missy Franklin, Elizabeth Pelton and Rachel Bootsma, Thomas was attracted to the approach to swimming shown by head coach Teri McKeever and assistant Kristen Cunnane.
“When I was on my recruiting trip they really gave me an idea what swimming should be,” said Thomas. “It’s not really about your fast times, it’s about how you can grow as a person while achieving pretty high goals.
“I really like how they run the program there. They impress me every day.
Things are done a little differently in California. Sometimes dryland training consists of dancing and pilates.
“Fun things a lot of people wouldn’t expect that would help a swimmer,” Thomas said. “I found that really helped. I was never bored. It helped me enjoy swimming.”
Besides adapting to new training techniques, Thomas – who plans on pursing a psychology major – also had to make the adjustment from being a high school student to attending a major university.
“Your lifestyle is really different,” she said. “The classes are different. It was a lot more than I thought it would be.
“You really have to be efficient with your time and seek help when you need it.”
Thomas managed to find her rhythm. The highlight of her rookie season was helping her team win gold in the 4×50-yard medley relay at the NCAA Championships.
Like many national team members who swim for U.S. schools, Thomas deals with the demands of different coaches.
“I think I am still learning how to have two coaches at the same time,” she said. “The most important thing is communicating.
“It’s not like when I’m in California I don’t talk to my coach in Canada. Everyone is always in communication with each other, in the loop. I feel I have support there and I have support here. It’s really good.”
It’s going to be a busy summer. Thomas is excited about the Pan Ams. It will be her first taste of a multi-Games event. Her parents will make the trip to Toronto.
“I am going to try and really enjoy it and soak up the different things that are going on,” she said.
While a Pan Am medal would be a great appetizer, the main course is reaching a final at the world championships.
“Going into an Olympic year people are starting to swim fast times,” Thomas said. “I know it will be as difficult as 2013 if not harder.
“I just need to focus on what I’m doing in this little pool in Vancouver today. That’s what is going to make me swim faster in the big pool.”
Thomas has grown physical over the last two years. She’s broader across the shoulders and her arms are more muscled. Maybe more importantly, she’s also matured.
“When I was 17 and making the (world championship) finals it was great,” she said. “To stay at that level is a lot harder than I think a lot of people realize. As you get older there are different factors that come in. There’s life. You have to start doing taxes, you have to start doing university. There’s a bunch of different responsibilities.
“I’m not going to expect the same of myself as I was when I was 17 because the circumstances are really different. I’m just trying to do the best I can with what I have been going through and where I am right now.”