By Dwayne Tingley
From stinging criticism to words of encouragement, Gabriel Mastromatteo has heard it all from his coach with the Kenora Swimming Sharks.
“She can be tough, but she’s only tough when she has to be and she usually has a good reason,” said Mastromatteo, who won gold, silver and bronze medals at last year’s Junior Pan Pacific Championships in Fiji.
The 16-year-old breaststroker’s head coach is his mother, Janet Hyslop, who also teaches French immersion when she’s not mentoring 54 competitive swimmers with the Northern Ontario club.
“When she’s tough, she’s pushing me to get better,” he added. “I know she’s pushing me to a place I want to go. She’s helped me every day and I am grateful for her support. She always backs me, every time I compete.”
Mastromatteo and Hyslop are the recipients of Swimming Canada’s 2018-19 Jeno Tihanyi Bursary. The bursary is awarded annually to a coach-swimmer team who work together to achieve ambitious goals. The award acknowledges the potential for high performance through the financial support of training as well as competitive and professional development opportunities.
Hyslop admits there have been some tense times, but overall Mastromatteo has been “very coachable.”
“A few years ago, there were challenges because when you are 14 or 15, your mother is not very cool and you might not want to always listen,” she said. “We always worked at our line of communication. Both of us learned to leave it all at the pool and not to bring it home. That’s the way it is most of the time and it’s been a benefit for both of us to work that way.”
Hyslop is proud that her son’s development has been achieved in their hometown.
“Gabe wears his hometown cap very proudly, as proudly as wearing the Maple Leaf,” she said. “For (Gabriel) to win a bursary like this, it’s a win for all of the small town swim clubs across the country. You don’t have to be from one of the big cities or big clubs to have success. If you are willing to put the work in and work with your coaches, success can come to any swimmer in Canada. I’m not saying it is easy because there are challenges in small clubs, but good things can happen anywhere.”
One of those challenges is that the Kenora pool shuts down on June 28.
“So all of that key time leading into performance period we aren’t at home. We’re travelling wherever we can find a 50-metre pool in Ontario,” Hyslop said.
The pair continues to work to find creative and innovative approaches to training and competing. Mastromatteo and Hyslop have received support through Swimming Canada’s NextGen programs, including visits to the Toronto-based Ontario Swim Academy led by Head Coach Don Burton.
“Last year we were there six times. This year have been to (University of Toronto) once, and plan on being back four more times before the end of the summer,” Hyslop said.
Hyslop and her son “beg, borrow and plead” to keep costs down when they travel to Toronto, staying with a relative, friend, or swimming connection. Often Mastromatteo travels alone ahead of his mother and coach, who joins him for the latter part of a training week.
“This award will certainly allow me the opportunity to go with him to Toronto this summer and have a mentor opportunity with Byron (MacDonald) at U of T while Gabe’s in that training phase, as opposed to me just sending him,” Hyslop said.
Mastromatteo swims about two hours every day, except for Sunday, and spends another hour a day in the gym. He wants to remain in his hometown as long as possible in order to succeed in life, school and swimming.
“I just want to keep getting better and I’d like to represent Canada as often as I can,” said Mastromatteo, who competed in a variety of sports when he was younger, but has devoted himself to swimming in recent years.
Hyslop also coaches son Tazio, 11, and daughter Emilia, 14. Her husband Steve has been supportive and motivates them all to improve.
“Winning a bursary that honours Dr. Tihanyi and his legacy makes this honour truly special because the swimming community knows the contributions he made to the sport in Canada,” said Hyslop.
Tihanyi, often simply referred to as Doc, coached swimming for 51 years. He was well known for his coaching philosophy to push improvement. The bursary was established to remember his legacy while encouraging coaches and swimmers to work closely together toward excellence.