MacDonald's raising funds to swim in Melbourne

Contributed Photo Tillsonburg swimmer Tyson MacDonald, 22, will be competing in Melbourne, Australia in February to earn an international S14 classification in para swimming. His goal is to make the Canadian national team and compete in Tokyo in 2020. TN

Share Adjust Comment Print

Tillsonburg’s Tyson MacDonald will be swimming overseas for the first time when he competes at the 2019 World Para Swimming Series meet in Melbourne, Australia.

MacDonald, 22, who grew up swimming in Tillsonburg and then Brantford, is setting his sights on representing Canada at the 2020 Summer Paralympics in Tokyo. But to achieve that goal – which means qualifying for the national team at the Canadian Trials in April – he needs his S14 classification as a para swimmer.

The trip will be expensive – MacDonald has to pay all expenses including airfare, accommodations and transportation while in Melbourne. To help fund his trip, his family set up a gofundme page ‘Help send Tyson down under!’

“The gofundme page been up for a couple weeks now and it’s done really well through word of mouth, friends and family,” said MacDonald.

As of Wednesday, $1,210 of his $5,000 target had been reached. They’re hoping more people get on board before he leaves for Melbourne on Feb. 9.

“My mom (Lana) and I, we can’t thank everybody enough for their generous support. And even if they’re not in a situation to donate, people have shared it and liked it, and that itself has been great. We want to thank those people too. Not everybody is in a situation to give, but even just a simple share has been great too. It’s about getting the word out that this athlete who has grown up in the community, and has had a fairly successful age group career, and grown into a senior level athlete, is now taking strides toward trying to make the national team.”

It’s exciting, he said, just having the opportunity, because in a small town it doesn’t happen often. Olympian Evan Van Moerkerke (2016 Rio), who grew up swimming in Tillsonburg, was someone Tyson could look up to both literally and figuratively.

“Being able to grow up with him in those age group swimming days, it’s really cool to have that sort of role model who made the Olympic team and went on to perform at the national level for a number of years. It’s really exciting to see that opportunity come around again.”

At Melbourne, MacDonald’s goal is simply to get his S14 classification. And while competing, Swimming Canada will be monitoring how he performs under pressure.

“For me, it will be my first international competition experience. I’ve only competed in Canada, and a couple times down in the States. So this will kind of be a whole learning experience – travelling, and time zone changes, and competing in a world class venue – getting that sort of exposure. It’s something that’s important to get an understanding of, so that if I was to make the national team I’d kind of have an idea going into that sort of situation.”

He’s not worrying about expectations, instead he’s focusing on the experience. He does not have to achieve gold medals or set national records.

“Obviously I want to do my very best every time I go off the block, but I’m trying not to put too much pressure on myself. I just want to go out and have a great time doing what I love, and have loved for so many years.”

In recent years MacDonald has learned to handle pressure even better than he did as a teenager. At the varsity level, his focus has changed from personal swimming goals to team goals.

“You’re swimming for your team and your school. Knowing that you’ve got a team behind you, supporting you, that really helps in itself. A lot of it is just going back to having fun with it, and that’s the biggest thing for me. I’ve always had fun swimming, but it’s different now – adding on travel, experiencing new things, and going to places that potentially I may not have been able to go if it weren’t for swimming.”

MacDonald will be competing in 200m freestyle, 100m backstroke and 100m breaststroke. Those are his main events, but he might add more.

As a young swimmer, MacDonald had been more of a distance athlete. Injured in 2014-15, however, his distances were reduced to 200m and 400m events.

“Now I’m even throwing in some 50s and 100s. It’s been a nice change and it’s freshened up training for me, going from those long grueling distance practices to short distances and a lot of sprint and pace focus, which is a lot of fun, too.”

In addition to the qualifying aspect at Melbourne, he needs the international classification.

“They’re running international classifications for intellectual disabilities – for athletes that are recognized with that. With Swimming Canada, there’s a whole process of steps that you have to take – from regional, provincial, and national level and then on to international level.”

It’s a been a two-year process for MacDonald trying to get an international classification spot.

Swimming Canada sets out certain target meets in the World Para Swimming Series, a series held in eight countries across four continents from February to June, to achieve international status.

The Melbourne competition begins Feb. 15.

“This will be the first,” said MacDonald. “The people who are going to this meet are targeted athletes to potentially qualify for national team in April at our Trials in Toronto. At Trials… I can have the opportunity to make the national team.”

MacDonald has had national experience at the Age Group level (seven years), first with SWA in Tillsonburg then with a Brantford club, and he has competed at a few senior level national meets – but not as a para swimmer.

Tyson and his mother Lana, for about the past 10 years, have been aware the para swimming option was ‘out there’ for him, but it was not until recent years that he decided to pursue it.

“I just never, personally, wanted to look into it because I was doing so well as an able-bodied swimmer but swimming with intellectual disability,” said MacDonald. “I wanted to pressure myself, go through the Age Group cycle.”

That mindset started to change when he went to Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo.

“In order to set up accommodations through university I had to undergo several psychological tests to ensure that I would fit into their requirements… for something as simple as extra time on an examination or different ways of taking tests. Through all that, it was determined that I could fit into this (intellectual disability) category for swimming. It’s just opened up a whole new set of doors that I never knew about before.”

Some things changed, but not as a swimmer.

“I think coming to terms with it has been the hardest thing. I’ve always known there’s been challenges with school, grade school, high school, but when people tell you ‘I don’t think university is the best route for you,’ or ‘I don’t see it as successful,’ because of something that’s on paper… for me it was more or less try to go out and not only prove to other people that just because I have diagnosed intellectual disability, it doesn’t stop me from getting an education and also being able to swim really well – and pursue those dreams.

“Basically, it’s put me in a position to challenge myself even more. And, I think, almost a little bit of acceptance too. These are the cards that I’ve been dealt and instead of dwelling on it, or feeling bad about it, there’s acceptance of it. I’m working with what I have and doing the best I can.”

MacDonald, in his fourth year at Wilfrid Laurier and currently studying geography and anthropology, is also swimming on the 20-member Golden Hawks team.

“That’s been going really well,” he said, noting the OUA swimming championships are coming up (Feb. 7-9 at Brock University). “It’s a nice stepping stone into Australia because I race three days at OUA’s, then hop on a plane to Melbourne and race there. It’s a quick turnaround.”

Since going to Laurier, he also trains and competes at the club level in Brantford during the ‘off season’ (April-July), reserving September to March for the varsity swimming and preparation for National Trials in April.