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Nicholas Bennett planned to use the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games as an opportunity to gain valuable experience.

As the youngest member of the Canadian team in Tokyo, Bennett left the Games with four Canadian records and a wealth of unexpected experience.

In 2019, the 18-year-old from Parksville, B.C,. moved to the High Performance Centre – Québec in Montreal to train under Head Coach Mike Thompson. When COVID-19 hit in 2020, Thompson helped Bennett navigate the many challenges posed by the pandemic.

For his outstanding performances this season, Bennett was named Swimming Canada’s Breakout Performer of the Year (Paralympic Program).

“It’s a big honour just to be noticed a bit more,” Bennett said. “[The Games] were my second international meet, so having an award be given after that is massively humbling.”

Thompson, who has been at the helm of the Montreal-based Para swimming program since 2015, is excited to see how Bennett improves in the coming years.

“We just really wanted to get the Paralympic experience under his belt,” Thompson said. “I really think Nick’s best performances are ahead of him and they’re probably closer to 2024 than to 2020.”

Bennett was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder when he was three. After doing water therapy and swim lessons as a kid, Bennett went into competitive swimming like his older sister Haley. Bennett now competes in the S14 category for swimmers with intellectual impairments.

The 2021 Olympic Swimming Trials conflicted with the Para Swimming 2021 World Series in Berlin. As a result, some Canadian Para swimmers had to send in training logs and video recordings to be selected to the team.

Despite the adapted selection process, Thompson was confident in Bennett’s abilities.

“We had very little stress when they were selecting the team because he was swimming well during practice,” Thompson said. “He looked good and he was hungry.”

To help prepare Bennett prepare for the Games, Thompson and the HPC – Québec team held as many time trials as possible to simulate a racing environment. Bennett was grateful for the opportunity to race in time trials but explained that there is no real replacement for actual racing.

“There’s a lot more motivation to race somebody that you know will push you instead of yourself,” Bennett said. “I’m hungry for a race.”

This hunger was reflected in Bennett’s swims in Tokyo. Bennett was a finalist in three of the four events he raced, placing fifth in the 100-m breaststroke SB14, sixth in the 200-m freestyle S14, and seventh in the 200-m individual medley S14.

“I’ve always tried to live more in the moment and see how things go day-by-day,” Bennett said. “I was not expecting my success at the Paralympics.”

Thompson added that Bennett getting to race people he has never met or has not raced in a few years helped him at the Games. Bennett’s results were a welcome surprise.

“We were kind of hoping that we would get one of two finals to see what those finals were like,” Thompson said. “We never in a million years expected that Nick would be within striking distance of a medal for two of those finals so we definitely over-exceeded expectations, which is pretty exciting leading into the next quad.”

When asked about a favourite moment from his breakout season, both Thompson and Bennett shared the same memory following the 200-m individual medley in Tokyo.

“Nick put himself in a position where he gave literally everything he had and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do that before,” Thompson said. “We met in the back hallway and I gave him a huge hug. That’s definitely one of my favourite moments from coaching,”

“I have to say that was probably the most emotional I got during the Games or in the past couple months,” Bennett said. “It was really the finale of the 2020-2021 season.”

Nathan White
Senior Manager, Communications, Swimming Canada
Gestionnaire supérieur des communications, Natation Canada
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