George Papadakos - Triathlon
"A belief is not merely an idea the mind possesses, it is an idea that possesses the mind." - Robert Bolton.
At the 60 metre mark of the men's 100m finals at the Canadian Olympic Swimming Trials, Evan Van Moerkerke was on cruise control. Great start... check, feeling good... check, where am I in the race... uh oh!
Seldom do racers have an epiphany of sorts at this point of a race, let alone their career, but as Evan looked over into lanes beside him, he knew it was now or never.
They say in life that to get to where you're going, you have to look at where you've been.
I first met Evan when I moved into a lane beside him during a masters swim practice. I still to this day remember how effortless Evan made it look, and I know that isn't the case.
One practice we were working pretty hard, and I was feeling good. I had looked over at Evan, and said "I'll race you this kick set interval for brunch at my restaurant."
He shrugged, "sure" and we were off. It only took 20 metres for Evan to make it crystal clear that he likes my food (and to not poke a sleeping bear), and had nothing but a smile as I dragged my butt back to the wall. For me, lesson learned. For Evan, breakfast.
Swimming is truly one of the toughest sports I have ever done. The sheer amount of physical effort that high level swimmers put themselves through on a daily basis is way beyond any normal human's wildest imagination.
In a given week Evan will swim around 20 hours, including dry land training.
He describes that ominous feeling as he toes the edge of the pool, that calm before the storm of drills, kick sets, and max efforts begins.
All in an effort to shave a few precious milliseconds from an already fast time.
His calm demeanour accepting what is before him, and what he has to do, knowing that once he dives in, it's two hours of focus.
One of Evan's best attributes besides his extremely tall physique, is his humble, gentle nature that borders on a take it as it comes kind of attitude.
You see, although swimming is physical, the best gains are made by a strong mind.
And Evan's journey has been a culmination of small and big mental gains that Evan has endured to make him tougher. I'll categorize my breakfast challenge as one of his small hurdles (very small hurdle).
I have heard many stories, many that Evan would validate, of a time where swimming was perhaps a lost cause. Doubting himself even after a great swim, perhaps knowing that to get better, a good amount of suffering, losing and learning had to be done before his true triumphs could or would be achieved.
None of this could be truer than in Evan's third year of post secondary education at the University of Guelph.
After a phenomenal freshman and sophomore year, the frustration of third year was starting to creep in. Evan recalls that he wasn't getting times he wanted, and wasn't enjoying swimming. Even his teammates noticed he had changed.
Coupled with his studies, the stress of mid-terms, and the darkness of winter days in February, Evan knew something was wrong. So before things went awry, Coach Don Burton was sought out.
Coaches are there to listen, and offer non judgemental guidance to help you achieve your goals, and at this Coach Burton is one of the best.
But I can bet that coach Burton didn't expect the words about to come out of Evan's mouth, "I don't want to swim anymore."
A quick evaluation, and Don had put things into perspective.
Evan went on to race OUAA championships, more for his teammates than himself, and found the mental mettle to reclaim his dominance in the 100m freestyle finals.
As a reward he was then given some time off to recharge... with one catch.
When you come back, get ready to train.
And train he did.
Approaching the Pan Am Trials with the sole goal of swimming for himself, and no one else.
For those of you that don't know Evan, he qualified for the Pan Am Games (July 2015), and along with his relay team members came home with the silver medal.
With a few feathers in his cap now, Evan was starting to believe that he belonged at this level. There was no mistaking this now, as all his records and times were speaking for him.
You can't be that fast by accident and although there had been bumps in the road, Evan had always rallied, finding what ever it took to make things happen.
Evan quickly did the math, 40 meters left.
Summoning everything he had, he clawed through the water, still not sure of where he was. He knew he was right behind the two fastest seeded swimmers, but as for everybody else... no idea.
And in what could be the most exciting finish in any sporting event, the 10 fastest swimmers in Canada were sprinting towards the finish line, the crowd screaming. And for the first time Evan recalls being able to hear them underwater.
Approaching the wall, knowing this is going to be close, splitting throughout the water in an effort to gain an inch or two, to be one of top four 100m swimmers to represent Canada at the Summer Olympic Games.
Evan hits the wall, he knows he's given it everything he had that day, and in his heart he's very thankful.
But as he checks the scoreboard, reality sets in.
4th Van Moerkerke, Evan 49.75.
He had achieved what the mind believed.
It's hard to believe that just over a year ago one of the greatest swimmers I've ever known almost called it quits. I am so thankful you didn't, and Canada and I will be behind you 100 per cent when you race in Rio.
Evan wanted to thank his incredible family and friends for their terrific support, words can't express what they mean to him.
His coach Don Burton for helping him through the good and bad times, and always seeing the best of Evan, even when he didn't himself.
And last but not least, his long-time girlfriend Jessica Bell, for which Evan credits a lot of his post secondary and swimming success, and for being there to listen when he needed to decompress.
Evan, I know you will do, what you do in Rio... but just so you know, you don't have the weight of Canada and your family putting pressure on you, you have us behind you pushing to the finish line.
Until I see you race for Canada, train safe and most importantly have fun, you deserve it!!
Meet and Greet
On Thursday, June 16, Corey's Restaurant in Tillsonburg will be hosting an open house for Evan. I would like to cordially invite all family, friends, swim fans, and Canadians to come out and give Evan the support he needs to help him achieve the most ultimate of goals, competing in the Summer Olympic Games.
Corey's will be closing that evening around 6 p.m. and then re-opening for 6:30 p.m. for a casual meet and greet, accompanied by appetizers and drinks. Evan hopes to see you all there.