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Swimming Canada wishes Kayla Sanchez well as she seeks to represent the Philippines in international swimming.

Sanchez, 21, has been a member of the senior national team since 2017, when she made her debut at the FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary. Her last meet for Canada was back in Budapest for last month’s FINA World Championships, where she was one of three Canadians to win four medals, joining Summer McIntosh and Penny Oleksiak.

Sanchez, who was born in Singapore to Filipino parents, has grown up in the Scarborough, Ont., area since she was two years old. She learned to swim at age 4, and began swimming competitively at age 8, first with the Pickering Swim Club and later at Ajax and Markham. She joined Swimming Canada’s High Performance Centre – Ontario after the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

“I felt super lucky to be given the opportunity to train at the centre,” Sanchez said.

A 15-year-old at the time joining a group that had won five of Canada’s six Olympic medals, she felt “scared, intimidated and nervous to show to the group and prove I could train with them and keep up with them.”

She recalls that “everyone was really friendly” to the youngest member of a group that included  Olympic medallists Chantal Van Landeghem, Sandrine Mainville, Michelle Williams, Penny Oleksiak, and Taylor Ruck.

Sanchez went on to become a key member of Canada’s relays at multiple international events. After achieving her dream of representing Canada at last year’s Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, where she was a double medallist, she has been considering the idea of representing her Filipino heritage at the highest level.

“I’ve always been really proud of my Filipino heritage,” she said. “Aside from how much I’ve grown and how good everything has been in Canada, I needed to make this really difficult decision for myself and my family to take this opportunity to represent the Philippines. I want to help inspire people that are like me to swim and get into the sport.”

Sanchez raised the possibility with Swimming Canada earlier this year, and the organization granted her her release immediately following the world championships. Her last day representing Canada was June 25.

“Kayla has been a great team member, centre member and swimmer for Canada and we will miss her,” said High Performance Director and National Coach John Atkinson. “She brought such a positive energy to our teams, as well as great swimming. Our loss will be the Philippines’ gain, but we support her in this transition as it is the direction she wishes to follow for personal and family reasons. We sincerely wish her nothing but the best in her future swimming.”

Sanchez said she is “forever grateful” for everything Canada has done for her

“I am so thankful and appreciative of Canada. I wouldn’t be the athlete I am today without the support and how much I grew and learned,” Sanchez said. “It’s just a point in my life where it’s time for a change. I am stepping into a new point in my swim career where I can start to focus on myself and at the same time I’m hoping to help people in the Philippines.”

Canada will now be without Sanchez at the upcoming Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, where swimming is set for July 29-Aug. 3. The team features all three individual medallists from the recent worlds – Josh Liendo, Summer McIntosh and Kylie Masse – while Maggie Mac Neil makes her return to individual events. Without Sanchez and other relay stalwarts such as Taylor Ruck and Penny Oleksiak, who have opted out to focus on rest and recovery for next season, there will be opportunities for other swimmers to step up on relays and other events.