By Jim Morris
For some athletes, winning an Olympic or Paralympic medal means they have reached the summit of their career. For Nicolas-Guy Turbide, claiming a bronze in the 100-metre backstroke at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games just gave him a glimpse at the further heights he planned to climb.
“For me, it opened my eyes in some ways,” said Turbide. “Yes, I managed to get on the podium in Rio but there are many other accomplishments I need to look up to for the next couple of years (like) having a great process and to keep performing at the highest level and to keep improving at the highest level.”
Competing at the Pan Pacific Para Swimming Championships in Cairns, Australia, Turbide won two gold medals, a bronze and a silver. That performance is one reason why the 21-year-old Quebec City native has been named Swimming Canada’s Male Para-swimmer of the Year for 2018.
It’s the second time Turbide has received the honour. His coach, Marc-Andre Pelletier at the Club de Natation Region de Quebec, receives the corresponding Coach of the Year award.
“It’s a reward for the hard work I put into the sport, the dedication I have every day to follow my goals and reach my goals,” said the visually impaired swimmer who competes in the S13 category. “It’s always good to get recognized for the great work that I put in, in and outside the pool. It’s just the cherry on the cake.”
In Cairns, Turbide won gold in both the 100-m back, setting an Americas and Canadian record, and the 200-m individual medley. Showing his diversity, he took a silver in the 50-m freestyle in Canadian record time and swam a personal best to claim bronze in the 100-m butterfly.
At the 2018 Canadian Swimming Trials in Edmonton Turbide won the Para multi-class 50-m freestyle and broke his own Canadian record. He also won gold in the 100-m backstroke.
Vince Mikuska, senior coach for the Paralympic program, said the results show Turbide is expanding his swimming repertoire.
“Nicolas-Guy had another good year, moving forward in all of his events,” said Mikuska. “That’s been good for him.
“I saw some technical changes that he hasn’t been able to make in the past that he has taken care of this year.”
Besides his strides in the water, Turbide has also grown outside the pool. The quiet teenager who made his first appearance on the national Para-swimming squad at the 2011 Parapan American Games in Guadalajara has matured into a respected team leader.
“If you ask our national team who is the most professional swimmer, it wouldn’t take them five seconds to reply it’s Nicolas-Guy,” said Mikuska.
“He does everything as well as he can. He’s present every single day in all aspects of his training, whether it’s activation, working in the pool, working in the weight room, his mental preparation, his knowledge of the sport. He’s very professional in his approach in all areas.”
Turbide was also named the top male Para-swimmer in 2016, after winning a medal in his first Paralympics. One of the lessons he’s learned since Rio is the importance of taking care of his body.
During his preparation for Cairns, Turbide was bothered by a sore shoulder.
“When I was younger, I probably wasn’t doing my warmups as I was supposed to do it,” he said. “You tend to have a small injury that grows into a bigger injury. You have to take a couple of steps back and fix them up as quick as you can in the most efficient way.
“It’s a learning experience. For me, I think that’s the part where I have improved the most in the past two years. It’s something before Rio I wasn’t really careful with. Now, it’s one of my priorities.”
The 100-m backstroke remains Turbide’s best event, but he’s happy with the improvements he’s made in the 200-IM, freestyle and butterfly.
“For me they are mostly fun events,” he said. “I think improving these events, even if they are not my main event, can make me a better swimmer.”
The 100-m backstroke is usually held on the final day of a meet. Swimming multiple events helps ease the stress of waiting to compete.
“I had less time to think about it and I think I was ready as everyone else,” Turbide said about his experience at Cairns. “I think I’ve learned well to adapt my training . . . and not be distracted by what’s happening outside of what I’m doing.”
Turbide’s focus in 2019 will be the World Para Swimming Championships beginning in July in Kuching, Malaysia. The event will attract over 600 swimmers from 70 countries and will be a step towards the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
“I think it will be a great way to see how things are looking for next year but still know many people can show up in the para system that (Paralympic) year,” said Turbide.
Still in the prime of career, Turbide hasn’t given much thought past 2020.
“I’m still focusing on what I’m going to do in the present moment,” he said. “I know I’m going to still compete in this sport until I don’t like it anymore.
“I’m loving what I’m doing. Making all the sacrifices are totally worth it right now.”