Duncan Stingrays swimmers Mary Paridaen Van Veen, Bridget Burton and McKinley Thomas-Perry (above from left) all qualified for the Canadian Junior Championships, as did Oliver Castle (below). (Submitted)

Duncan Swin Team makes history at junior nationals

In the history of the Duncan Swim Team, fewer than 30 swimmers have competed at the national junior level, and fewer than 10 of those have reached a final.

Last month, the Stingrays sent two swimmers — 15-year-old McKinley Thomas-Perry and 14-year-old Bridget Burton — to the Canadian Junior Championships in Calgary, and both reached finals in two events.

“To say we’re proud of our swimmers would be an understatement,” Stingrays head coach Leanne Sirup said.

“Both of these young women did extremely well in achieving personal bests across the board. This was an extraordinary feat as they’re both racing on the national stage for the very first time and also performing at altitude.”

To put that in context, out of 62 entries in the 15-17 200m backstroke, only four achieved personal bests in preliminaries, and Thomas-Perry was one of them. In the 13-14 50m freestyle, only six out of 61 swimmers had personal bests, and Burton was one of them

“This was the mood of the entire competition where less than 10 per cent of the competitors raced to their lifetime best in the morning,” Sirup related. “Bridget and McKinley did as they’ve always done in trusting their own abilities and bucking the trend.”

Two more Stingrays qualified for the Canadian Juniors, were unable to attend: Mary Paridaen Van Veen, 14, broke a finger playing rugby, and Oliver Castle, 18, was preparing to head to Thompson Rivers University in the fall.

The Canadian Junior Championships were attended by 127 teams from across Canada, competing in 13-14 and 15-17 age groups for female swimmers, and 14-15 and 16-18 age groups for males. Burton turned 14 just before the meet, while Thomas-Perry was at the bottom of the upper age group. Both reached two finals, Burton placing sixth in both the 13-14 100m free and 50m free, and Thomas-Perry finishing 12th in 15-17 100m backstroke and 16th in the 15-17 200m individual medley.

“Qualifying for two A finals was more than I could have hoped for,” said Burton, who admitted she felt nervous prior to the meet. “I finally realized that I truly belonged there.”

Thomas-Perry called the 100m backstroke her personal highlight of the championships. She was seeded 25th prior to the meet, but climbed 13 spots by the end, along with breaking the club record twice.

“I was very very happy with all of performances, even if they didn’t go as planned,” she said. “As far as my overall performance goes, I am very pleased with it as well, I am also very delighted with how I carried myself and represented my team. My 200m backstroke was my first race of the meet and getting that personal best I think it really set me up for a great rest of the meet.”

Both swimmers admitted to being nervous before the competition, but they found ways to deal with it.

I remember jumping into the water for my 100m backstroke final and being very nervous but I just said to myself, ‘All the work that you have put into this, it’s paying off,’” Thomas-Perry recalled. “You have earned your spot here and you deserve to be here just as much as everyone else,’ and that really helped to calm my nerves.”

The highlight of the meet for Burton was competing in her first-ever swim-off at junior nationals in the 100m butterfly.

“The girl I was swimming against in the swim-off was from a big team and had lots of teammates,” Burton noted. “Although Duncan is a smaller team, I knew my team was there cheering for me.”

Thomas-Perry treasured the experience of not only competing, but also representing the Stingrays on the national level.

“It was such a new atmosphere to be in because everyone that was there, they were there to compete and to show off all of their hard work that they have put into swimming,” she said. “Although it was a new atmosphere I did think that it was a fun and cool one to be in and I really enjoyed being apart of it and getting to put myself out there.

Thomas-Perry became the 10th Stingray ever to achieve the Canadian Senior Championships qualifying standard, but decided juniors was a better fit this year, so she’s aiming to qualify for both next year, as is Burton.

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