It's hard to imagine a time when 23-year-old Evan Van Moerkerke wasn't 6'9" tall.
That he wasn't always Olympic calibre.
That he grew up swimming at the Tillsonburg Community Centre's Kinsmen Pool.
On Sunday, August 7th, at Rio de Janeiro, the Tillsonburg swimmer realized his dream of competing at the Olympics swimming in the 4x100m men's freestyle relay. And his parents, his grandmother, his aunt and a family friend, and his girlfriend were all able to experience it with him in Rio.
"It's difficult to put into words," said Evan's mother, Carol Van Moerkerke, recalling the experience. "It's hard to explain.
"Eric's mom (Simonne), she's 81 years old, said, 'whoever thought she would be able to go watch her grandson swim at the Olympics.' She said it was an unbelievable opportunity for her to be able to take part in that."
It was incredible to be at the Olympics, said Carol, and share that experience with people like themselves who were at their first Olympics, some who had been to several Olympics, and even a couple who had been to 20 Summer and Winter Games.
"That's what they do, every two or four years they go to the Olympics. But that's not the same as being the parent of an athlete at the Olympics. You just have a whole different mindset, a whole different purpose for being there. Basically you've followed your child from whatever age they start their athletics up to the that point - the Olympics."
Unlike some sports which have professional leagues, the Olympics are the premier event in swimming.
"There is nothing they can go on and do above and beyond the Olympics."
The enormity of it didn't really hit them until they returned to their Brownsville area home (South-West Oxford Township) on the 12th where they watched a lot of the Olympics on TV. At that point they were saying 'oh my gosh, we were there.'
In Rio, Carol said they were so busy and immersed in what they needed to do, where they had to go, and how to get there, that it didn't all sink in.
"It's not until you get home, you sit on the couch and watch it on TV, and you go 'oh my gosh, we were there,' we watched our son swim at the Olympics. We walked on Copacabana Beach. We were part of all of that was going.
"It was really and truly incredible."
It is true that Evan, who recently celebrated his 23rd birthday, wasn't always Olympic calibre.
He was 10 years old when the Tillsonburg Aquatic Torpedoes transitioned into South Western Aquatics, and his mother was on the executive. In his early years, swimming for Evan was more of a social activity.
"I think it was when he went to the World Juniors in 2011," said Evan's mother Carol, who admitted to being a bit surprised when Evan, at the age of 17, was the second-fastest 18-and-under swimmer in Canada and selected to compete in Peru.
"Before that, he just did it as a social thing and we were okay with that. As long as he was doing something active, we were perfectly fine with that. We always said, you have to do 'something.' He played a little hockey, a little soccer, but he was never big on team sports. At the pool he could sit on the deck and chat."
The World Junior Championships changed everything for Evan, who had been planning to pursue his post-secondary education in Ridgetown (Kent County) where they did not have a swim team. Chatham, the nearest team, did not have a strong program at the time.
Carol, who knew Guelph University coach Don Burton, asked Evan, 'What about Guelph?'
"I said, 'just consider it.'"
It would mean going back to Glendale High School for a fifth year to pick up necessary courses, which he did.
"It was only after World Juniors that swimming became more of a focus for him," said Carol, noting Evan started growing into his 6'9" frame at the age of 16-17 and his times started to drop. "That's when he really advanced and started swimming at the junior and senior nationals.
"At Guelph Don (Burton) was a good coach for him. Every athlete is different, every athlete matures at a different age. And Don understands him. I think it's fantastic the two of them were able to work together."
Van Moerkerke's Road to Rio sponsors
Many local businesses sponsors supported Evan Van Moerkerke on his Road to Rio, and he is very grateful for the support.
His list of sponsors includes:
Integrated Grain Processors Co-operative Inc. (IGPC)
Bossy Nagy Group Professional Corp.
Future Transfer Co. Inc.
Wolverine Freight System
Max Underhill's Farm Supply Ltd.
Township of South-West Oxford
Dereham and District Lions Club
Rotary Club of Tillsonburg
E. & E. McLaughlin Ltd.
Execulink Telecom Inc.
VanMaele Leitch-Gair Insurance Ltd.
Good Redden Klosler LLP
Ontario Laser Cutting Inc.
Wellmaster Pipe and Supply Inc.
Gowans Feed Consulting
Tillsonburg Glass & Mirror Ltd.
Premier Equipment Ltd.
Kim Husted Surveying Ltd.
T.L. Willaert Realty Ltd.
Dr. R. Bamford
The Toronto Dominion Bank
Tillsonburg Knights of Columbus
Jim's Flying Service
"A special thanks also to my family, my friends and my community," said Van Moerkerke. "Especially George (Papadakos) and his family at Corey's Restaurant for their support, encouragement and their congratulations on my Road to and from Rio."