This preview article for the 17th FINA World Championships is powered by Canada’s Dairy Farmers’ Fuelling Women’s Champions, a movement dedicated to recognizing and empowering our country’s female athletes.
By Jim Morris
January on the West Coast can be a dark, dreary month.
It was made even worse this year for MacKenzie Padington. The 18-year-old from Campbell River, B.C., battled a painful rib injury that hampered her training for the Canadian Swimming Trials, jeopardizing her chances at making her first senior national team.
“It was so frustrating,” said Padington. “I had to stop swimming. It got so irritating because I just wanted to get back into the water all the time.
“It was Feb. 1 when I finally did my first practice. I was stressing out.”
At the Trials in April, Padington surprised a lot of people, including herself. She won the 400-metre and 800-m freestyle events to gain a berth on Team Canada competing at this summer’s FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
“I wasn’t expecting to make the team,” admitted Padington, who trained with the NextGen Victoria program, and has now joined the High Performance Centre – Victoria.
“It’s my first time ever making a Canadian senior national team. People didn’t expect that from me. It was really fun to shock everyone there.”
In the 400-m, Padington excited the Victoria crowd by holding off Olympic medallist Kennedy Goss to win in a personal best time of four minutes, 09.04 seconds. Then, on the final night of the competition, she shaved an incredible 20 seconds off her PB to win the grueling 800-m in 8:31.68.
“I felt really good in the warmup,” Padington said about the race. “I was pacing faster than I was pacing before my 400 free. It felt easier.
“I didn’t expect to take that much time off. When I saw the time (it) was unbelievable.”
Just a few months before Padington didn’t even know if she’d be ready for the Trials.
In November she began suffering from costochondritis, which causes severe and constant pain in the chest wall area. After it affected her performance at the Ontario Junior International in December, NextGen Head Coach Brad Dingey worked with the HPC – Victoria integrated support team to modify her training.
“We basically shut her down from training for a couple of weeks, then after Christmas we started her back up on a minimal program, with dryland (training) dropped to almost none based on not aggravating this injury,” Dingey said. “We slowly started building her up and to her credit as a young athlete, she listened. She had a lot of confidence in the coaching staff and the IST that we had her best interests at heart, with a plan in place.”
Once Padington was given the green light for heavier training she struggled to find her form.
“I definitely lost some of that feeling I had before,” she said. “I was still going fast. I just wasn’t feeling good in the water.”
Padington pressed on. Dingey was impressed by her progress.
“She stayed the course and once about February hit, she got back into normal training and every week she was starting to get better and better. When we went to Mesa for a taper camp two weeks prior to Trials, she was getting better by the day – every session she kept getting better and kept getting faster.”
In one sense, being hurt may have benefitted Padington, as the plan included reducing her focus to the 400 and 800.
“After my injury my training switched,” she said. “I went from being a stroke to a distance swimmer. Those practices are completely different.
“I don’t know if my coaches would have switched me (otherwise).”
Growing up, Padington looked up to her sister Taylor, who also was a swimmer. Like her sister, she came to Victoria to train at the High Performance Centre, where she worked out with two-time Olympic medallist Ryan Cochrane.
“It was so surreal,” she said. “I remember watching the 2008 Olympics and screaming at the TV because a Canadian was actually on the podium.
“When I came here he welcomed me with open arms. He made training so much better. He was a world-class athlete in everything he did. He showed everyone in the group things, which was amazing.”
This fall Padington will join the swimming program at the University of Minnesota. She also will study to be a teacher, following in the footsteps of her mother who is a school principal in Campbell River.
When she isn’t training, Padington coaches elementary-aged swimmers. She enjoys working with the children and says it helps remind her why she competes.
“It teaches you a lot,” she said. “It really shows me how far I have progressed because I remember being in that position and being that young and just looking up to the coaches. I can see that in their eyes.”
Looking into the future, HPC – Victoria Head Coach Ryan Mallette said Padington has “a lot of potential.”
“She’s a tall girl, she is a strong girl,” he said. “And she’s a confident girl.
“When you add that with someone who really enjoys racing, I think anything is possible. She is on a very rapid ascent right now. The key is to capitalize on that and keep ascending.”
Dingey is proud to see the development of his young swimmer, who moved from a small town and took on all the challenges that came with joining the NextGen program.
“It isn’t the path of least resistance for her or any of these kids who move to Victoria. She’s living at a homestay, eating differently, sleeping in a different bed. It shows their commitment to what they’re doing,” Dingey said.
The world championships will be another step in Padington’s development, and inspiration for the other young swimmers in the NextGen program.
“We’re not looking to add pressure, we’re just looking to provide opportunity,” said Mallette. “At this point we want to just keep giving her the chance to get in and improve, not necessarily give her an amount of expectations that she’s not ready for. That’s not fair to her.
“We just want to see her do her best and improve.”
Now that she’s feeling healthy again and back to full training, Padington believes she can raise some eyebrows in Budapest, just like she did at the trials in Victoria.
“I want to surprise people again this summer,” she said. “Hopefully I can do that.”
Fuel for Thought with Mackenzie Padington
What does it take to fuel a woman champion? It takes training, support, determination, perseverance, drive, and of course a balanced diet filled with nutritious food including at least three servings of dairy daily. Here is a look inside what it takes to fuel Mackenzie Padington:
Q: What does typical day of a high-performance competitive swimmer look like for you?
A: A typical day for me starts with swimming, then school, more swimming, weights, and sleep.
Q: What are some staple foods in your diet?
A: Chocolate milk, and yam crackers
Q: What are some of your favourite things to eat before and after training?
A: Before training I usually eat a granola bar and after I always have chocolate milk and sometimes a Luna bar.
Q: What is your favourite way (other than swimming) to keep active and fit?
A: When I have time away from the pool, biking or hiking are my favourite activities.
Q: What do you do to get pumped up before a race or workout?
A: I love listening to music.
Q: After your swimming career comes to an end, where do you see yourself?
A: When I stop swimming, I want to have my teaching degree done and begin to teach in an elementary school.