Van Moerkerke recognition night in Tillsonburg

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Evan Van Moerkerke's Pan Am silver medal may be the biggest the 22-year-old Tillsonburg swimmer has ever won.

It's that big.

It will always be a special medal for Van Moerkerke, but it won't have a special place in his home. It won't have its own frame, it won't be stored in its own case.

What's more important for Van Moerkerke is the accomplishment of being on Team Canada for the Pan Am Games. What he did at the Games and what he did to get there. And the support of his family, his friends, his peers, and his hometown.

"It's the experience," said Van Moerkerke. "It's the memories."

"This," he said, holding his medal, "is still just a medal."

It's one of many he earned as a member of the Tillsonburg Aquatic Torpedoes, South Western Aquatics and at the University of Guelph.

"Each one of those medals – all of them – led me to this one."

Just as important for Van Moerkerke was an 8th place finish for the 4x100m men's freestyle relay team at the World Aquatic Championships earlier this month in Kazan, Russia.

"That was kind of our goal for the summer, that Top 8 finish," said Van Moerkerke, noting the pressure was off going into the final. "Once we qualified in prelims (sixth)... we had that Top 8 for sure. We were really happy with, obviously."

When the Americans and Australians failed to make the Top 8, Van Moerkere said the Canadians were shooting for a higher placing in the final. It didn't happen, but he was quick to note that it wasn't caused by any one swimmer having a bad race.

"Everything didn't fall into place like it did at Pan Ams. We we still had a good race, still swam well. It just wasn't the same excitement we had at Pan Ams. That adrenaline rush from being in Toronto... that was definitely an advantage. You wouldn't think there was such a hometown advantage in swimming, but there definitely was. The roar was incredible."

Comparing that roar – the incredible support they got at Pan Am – to what the Russian team got in Kazan, he said the Canadians easily surpassed it.

"I'd say it was louder and more exciting in Canada. It was incredible seeing that much support, especially for swimming. It's one of those sports that's really only starting to build in Canada."

Swim Canada, as a team, earned 27 medals at the Pan Am Games, second only to the United States, and eight more medals (four bronze, four silver) at the World Aquatic Championships.

"Swim Canada is really trying to put an effort into building their program and that's kind of why this year's main focus at Worlds was that Top 8 spot – get that sport for Olympics next year. And build for next year."

Van Moerkerke, who swam a 100-metre leg of 49.37 in both the prelim and finals at Kazan – consistent, set a personal best at the Pan Am final (49.06).

"It was a fantastic year," said Van Moerkerke, who had a personal best of 49.94 at the Trials in April 2015.

"I'm hoping for 48.5 by next April. This year my goal was 49.5, next year 48.5. My goal is more than just the relay team. I also want Top 2. If you're trying to make Top 4, and a chance to go to Rio, you might as well go for the whole thing."

RECOGNITION NIGHT

The community had a chance to recognize Van Moerkerke Wednesday night at the Lake Lisgar Water Park, organized by the town's recreation department.

Following a presentation from Tillsonburg Mayor Stephen Molnar, participants enjoyed a special 'Pan Am' cake, and free swim.

Molnar, speaking on behalf of the municipal town council and the 16,000 residents of Tillsonburg, said

Van Moerkerke, 22, is both a world class athlete and university student, and recognized both as notable achievements.

"That's a message to some of the younger ones here, that you can have those dreams," said Molnar. "You can grow up in a small community in southwestern Ontario, you can have fun, you can work hard, you play hard, but education and knowledge are always a key part of that, and you can all go on to great success as well. You really can have it all when you work hard.

"That... and I would say a healthy dose of Bre's corn has obviously helped someone grow big, strong and fast," Molnar smiled, "and we'd like to recognize that as well.

"Congratulations, Evan, on a very successful summer of 2015. Best wishes on your plans on the fall, and good luck as you train hard to ensure that your return home includes a path through Rio."

Molnar presented Van Moerkerke a plaque of commendation from the Town of Tillsonburg in recognition of his Pan Am silver medal.

Van Moerkerke, directing his words to the young athletes in attendance, said he didn't start to get serious about swimming until he was 13, and it wasn't until he was in Grade 10-11 that he knew swimming was his 'sport.'

"You don't need to know now what you want to do. You have a lot of time. I didn't know I wanted to be a national swimmer when I was 13... or even when I was 15. Play sports, have fun, go to school. Trust me, it falls into place... do what you enjoy the most."

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