Category Archives: Athlete in Residence

First gold medals, next the Paralympic Games

Winning Parapan Am medals was just the start to a year of hard work, says athlete in residence Morgan Bird

Morgan's Parapan Am medals

Two gold and a silver won by Morgan Bird at the Parapan Am Games in Toronto. Contributed photo.

With less than a year to go before the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the stakes have never been higher.

It is all in the details – every workout counts. Since coming home from both the World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland, and the Parapan Am Games in Toronto, where I won two golds and a silver medal, I have put my mind to doing everything I can to make myself better in and out of the pool.

Morgan Bird

Read all about athlete in residence Morgan Bird and her progress in her blogs.

This summer was an amazing experience for me because I was able to reach peak performances, especially in the 400 freestyle, where I was only a second away from my 2012 Paralympics all time best, and touched the wall at 5:19, a time that I have not come close to for a long while. After such a successful summer, it has only made me push myself harder than ever and do all the little things to see more successes in my performances.

I recently swam at my first swim meet of the season. It was nice to get back into racing and see how well my training is working. I swam incredibly well, starting off the year with four new Canadian records. This was the exact confidence booster I needed as we start this Paralympic year. It told me I am in shape and my training in the pool and what I’m doing out of the water is going really well.

As I said, this is a Paralympic year and there are lots of crucial swim meets coming up that are leading into the games. The first will be the CanAms, which are being held in Bismarck, North Dakota, from December 10 to 12. This is the last chance for Canada to secure spots for the Paralympic team, so I’m looking to swim some fast times in order to secure more spots for the team. 

Next is a training camp with the national team in Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic.  The purpose of this is to continue to improve both in technique and fitness … all while soaking up a bit of sun, a nice change from these Calgary winters.

The next and biggest step is Paralympic Trials, which are being held in Toronto at the Pan Am pool from April 5 to 10, 2016. This is where athletes need to step up and give their best performances so that they can be announced to the Paralympic team in the summer. Rio is never a guarantee, I need to be swimming at my absolute best in order to make the team.

In terms of my training at home, I have made a few (positive) changes and I am feeling confident at this point in the year.

I have increased the intensity in both my practices as well as my dryland and weights sessions. I am feeling stronger and am noticing a difference in my fitness level as well.

These next months are going to fly by, and in order to get to the peak performance that I want come trials, I need to have faith in both my abilities as an athlete, and my support systems such as coaches, family, and friends. Following every step and making sure I am doing everything I can to be ready for trials is very important. I cannot control what anybody else does or will do, but I can make sure that I am doing everything I can to help myself get to my end goal.

So with everything in sync and us all working diligently towards the same endgame, I am very hopeful to be representing Canada and standing on that podium at the biggest elite stage there is: the Paralympic Games.

Morgan Bird wins double swimming gold

Morgan Bird

Athlete in residence Morgan Bird, by artist in residence Jason Skinner, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Tomorrow’s first athlete in residence is now a gold-medal winning swimmer having taken two top spots at the Para Pan Am Games in Toronto, Ontario.

Morgan Bird, who we first interviewed during the London 2012 Paralympics, broke Para Pan Am records in both the 400m freestyle S8 and the 50m freestyle S8.

In the 400m on Sunday, Morgan finished in a time of 5:19:33 to claim her first gold, then just 90 minutes later mopped up the 50m in 32:00.1

The 21-year-old told broadcaster CBC: “I did not see that coming. It’s been a busy night for me. I followed both race plans well I think. I’m really happy with the results.”2

You can read all of Morgan’s writings as athlete in residence about her training and hard work that have lead to this point. And we extend our own, acceptably biased, congratulations to Morgan and her family and friends in Calgary, Alberta, on these accomplishments.

UPDATE: Morgan won silver in the 100m freestyle S8 on Thursday evening in a time of 1:10.53. This was an improvement on her earlier time of 1:11:15, the fastest amongst the two heats and a games record time until it fell to gold medalist Mallory Weggemann of the United States.

  1. Full results from the Para Pan Am website.
  2. Video interviews available for Canadian viewers.

Para Pan Am Games offer ‘dream’ races for athletes

Tollcross pool

Tollcross International Swimming Centre, Glasgow, UK. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Racing at home in Canada has always been a dream for most athletes, and for me, this dream has become a reality.

I was selected to be on both the World Championship team, which was held in Glasgow, Scotland, as well as the Para Pan American Games team, which is being held in Toronto, Ontario. Both of these competitions have given me a look into what it will take to medal at the Rio Paralympics next summer.

Throughout the summer, the team has been in constant travel mode. Jumping from pool to pool and living out of our suitcases has become the norm.

We started out our summer with staging in Spain, then moved on to race in Glasgow. The transition from Spain to Glasgow was tough – with the temperature change and jet lag we all were exhausted. Thankfully, I have done this before and was prepared for these different traveling challenges. Being my third time in less than a year in Glasgow, I had an idea of what to expect when we landed.

The professionalism on the team this summer has grown exponentially from past years. Everyone is respectful of one another and has taken on different leadership roles to ensure everyone is being supported throughout the competition. I have noticed that with the help and encouragement of my teammates, my performances have been impacted in a positive way and I feel closer to everyone on the team. So with this change in atmosphere on the team, it is a really exciting time for Canadian para swimming, especially leading into a Paralympic year. 

The results from World Championships in Glasgow were impressive. As a team we came home with a total of 11 medals and 51 second swims. As for my swims, though I did not medal, overall I am happy with my races and now know what I need to work on for my events in Toronto.

In my S8 category, the swimming is getting more and more intense and competitive. There have been a lot of new, young, and fast swimmers coming on to the scene since London 2012, so I really have to focus on keeping up with the rest of the world if I want to stay on top. That is something I am willing to do.

As we finish our final preparations for Toronto I know what I have to do and it’s quite simple – just swim.

I’ve put in the extra work and have done everything I have been told to do, so really all that is left is to put it into motion. I need to trust myself and my capabilities in the water, along with not worrying about the elements I cannot control and instead focus my efforts on what I can. By doing that I am confident I will come away from the Para Pan Am Games with many solid swims and hopefully a couple medals.

The team this year is sharp and I am so proud to be a part of it. I am extremely excited to race in Canada and plan on using the crowd and the home support to my advantage.

For when those final meters to the wall really start to hurt, I can lean on my country to get to the wall and finish first.

World para swimming championships hit Glasgow

The IPC Swimming World Championships are being held in Glasgow, UK, from July 13 to 19,1 and Tomorrow caught up with athlete in residence Morgan Bird to find out about the competition so far and her training for the Para Pan Pacific Championships in Toronto next month and the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Ms Bird is competing in 100m butterfly S8, 50m, 100m, and 400m freestyle S8 and 4x100m freestyle relay. She has previously explained the classification system and her own experiences with it for Tomorrow.

Ms Bird is next in action at the Para Pan Pacific Championships in Toronto, Ontario in August.

Attendance in Glasgow has not been high and despite the Daily Record newspaper and Clyde 1 radio signed up as official media partners, neither have any coverage of the championships on their websites beyond single preview articles.

Craig McCord, national coach for para swimming at Swimming Canada2 and a native of Glasgow, said the Canadian team was a mix of older veterans and younger athletes developing their skills. He said he was hopeful media coverage in Canada would increase after this summer.

Mr McCord added: “These are absolutely a good rehearsal for Rio and we’re producing a high performance of swimming.

“Coming out of London [Paralympics] and the media that Channel 4 did, it really emphasised the development of the sport in Britain. We’re hoping the same will happen out of Toronto and the Canadian Paralympic Committee has come out with the best media package ever coming into the Para Pan Pacific Championships.”

  1. http://www.paralympic.org/glasgow-2015
  2. http://paralympic.ca/board-directors/craig-mccord

Para swimming focus on Toronto and Glasgow

Morgan Bird

Morgan Bird in Toronto in March. Photo courtesy the swimmer.

THE IPC Swimming World Championships and Parapan Am trials have been the focus of my training since I found out when and where they were taking place.

March 20 to 22 at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre (TPASC) in Ontario was not just another opportunity to race against the highest ranked elite para athletes in the world. It was also a chance to make the next set of national teams coming up this summer’s IPC Swimming World Championships, happening in Glasgow, Scotland, from July 13-19, and the Parapan Am’s in Toronto from August 8 to 14.

I needed to put myself in that place where swimming comes first, and everything else comes second. Everything I did leading up to trials in March revolved around being at my best in order to swim well and make the teams.

Knowing that I pre-qualified for World Championships the summer before, at the Para Pan Pacific Championships, did not in any way take off the pressure to achieve my para swimming standard in Toronto. Nobody knows for sure who makes what team until it is officially announced after the meet is over. Anything can happen. As an athlete, I had to believe in myself and do all my preparations prior to coming to trials.

Preparations included a three-week training camp in Plantation, Florida. I took every one of my races by the horns with a positive mindset knowing that it was now or never.

I swam my four main events: 400 free, 100 fly, 50 free and 100 free. I made my standard on the last day of the meet by swimming 1:10.55 for 100 free. I found out I made both Para PANAM’s team of 40 swimmers and World Championships team of 25 swimmers on the Sunday night of the meet.

Monday and Tuesday of the next week consisted of meetings, photo shoots, and media opportunities. This summer is a particularly big deal for Canada, especially Para PANAMS, because they are being held on home soil. The crowds will be huge, the atmosphere will be insane, media coverage will increase, and for some, this will be their first time at an elite level competition in Canada.

Immediately after all of this was completed, we took an evening flight straight to Glasgow for the British Para International swim meet, held at the Tollcross International Swimming Centre, from March 26 to 29. We were challenged with some very fast swimming from our European competitors, and Team Canada was the loudest and proudest team in the stands. Despite the jet lag, we stood up and posted some great results.

After the swim meet, Team Canada had a chance to tour the town of Edinburgh and the Edinburgh Castle, before traveling home.

Inside the classification system of para swimming

Morgan Bird

Athlete in residence Morgan Bird, by artist in residence Jason Skinner, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

MY first experience in a competitive swimming atmosphere was at a rookie camp, to “test the waters” and truly find out if I had the desire and motivation to become a swimmer.

My coach saw my potential and was reluctant to let me pass up the opportunity that could be within my reach if I stayed in the sport. Knowing nothing about “para-swimming,” it was both a surprise and a relief to find out about a whole other side of the sport. My coach briefly explained the somewhat complicated classification system in para-swimming, what it was and how it works.

As in able-bodied competitive swimming, competitive para-swimming also has four different strokes included within its sport. They are: freestyle (front crawl), butterfly, backstroke, and breaststroke.

The classification system is split up into three different categories: S, SB, and SM. S means swim, which includes the strokes freestyle, butterfly and backstroke. Breaststroke has its own category, SB. The reason for that is because most of the para-athletes bodies adapt differently for breaststroke, which is unlike the other three strokes. SM stands for individual medley, which is a combination of all four of the strokes together.

The next part of the classification system is the numbers. In swimming, the numbers range from 1-14, with 1 to 10 describing physical disabilities – 1 being the most severe, 10 being least severe.

An example of a lower level physical classification would be someone missing all four limbs, using simply their torso to move forward in the water. An example of a higher-level physical classification would be someone missing some of the fingers on one hand. 11-13 describes visual impairments.

If you are visually impaired, you are required to wear black-out goggles, painted over in order to eliminate the ability to see. Someone with an 11 classification is completely blind, whereas if they are a 12 or 13, they are partially blind. Finally, 14 describes someone with an intellectual disability.

You get classified as you grow and improve, as well as if someone else protests it. Anyone can challenge your classification.

When someone protests a classification, it is controversial, because although it is a part of being in para-sport, some swimmers do take it personally. For whatever reason, somebody believes you belong in a different class. The final decision, however, is up to the classifiers.

Some may think the classification system is flawed in some ways,1 but it is currently the best system para swimming has.

The classification process includes an on-land bench test, as well as an in-water test. The classifiers watch you do a series of movements on land, and then proceed to watch you swim laps while they critique your stroke. This determines your final classification.

Personally, I have been classified twice after my S10, SB9 and SM10 classification was protested. My current classification is S8, SB8 and SM8, and will likely stay that way for the rest of my swimming career.

Two years after I started swimming, I was introduced to the classifying process at a one-day workshop. The swimmers and parents were informed about how classifying works. The swimmers were later taken and watched by coaches and therapists as they did a series of physical tests both on land and in water. I was classified in April and went to my first official event as a para swimmer in July that same year, the Summer Games in Red Deer Alberta, representing Calgary.

I did well there, and my performances motivated me to continue with swimming. Fast forwarding to 2015, my next big meet is the CAN-AM Para-Swimming Championship and world championship trials from March 20 to 22 in Toronto, Ontario, at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

  1. During the 2012 Paralympics in London, International Paralympic Committee governing board member Patrick Jarvis said the classification system was “inherently unfair” amid complaints from US athletes.

Altitude training: Swimming high to Rio

Morgan Bird

Tomorrow athlete in residence Morgan Bird, left, in training in Flagstaff, Arizona, where she benefits from the high altitude for her swimming.

If you have never been at altitude, it may be a tad bit difficult to adjust the first trip, just because it is harder to breathe than at sea level.

I have had the privilege of being selected to be a part of something called the “Rio Podium Project” from Swimming Canada, training at altitude with the national team.

What is altitude training, you ask? It includes travelling to Flagstaff, Arizona, for three weeks at a time, four times a year. There are usually around six athletes that come to train together, and Flagstaff is the perfect location because it is at 7,000 feet above sea level.

The purpose of altitude training is to do hypoxic (difficult) workouts to increase our hemoglobin and plasma concentration as well as EPO (erythropoietin), which is a hormone produced by the kidney that promotes the formation of red blood cells.

This in turn increases your oxygen levels. Once your oxygen levels increase and you go back home, it will require less effort to swim faster.

For example, let’s say a swimmer went to a swim meet before coming to altitude training and went 1 minute and 12 seconds for 100m free. After coming back from altitude, the idea is that the swimmer would be able to go 1 minute and 12 seconds again, without exerting as much effort. That is why we are also encouraged to go to a swim meet right after these altitude camps, in order to track the results.

The athletes also get a lot of one-on-one attention with the coaches and personalised training. A tonne of support staff – also known as your integrated support team (IST) – travel with us to ensure optimal performance. The IST includes physiologists, psychologists for mental support, massage therapists, as well as strength and conditioning coaches.

We do tonnes of tests both in and out of the water, as well as video analysis, to keep track of how we are doing. We are instructed to listen to our bodies. Depending on how we feel – such as if we are getting sick – the coaches will adjust our work load to guarantee a fast recovery.

Flagstaff is a popular place. Canada is not the only country that takes advantage of the benefits that altitude training gives us. Other countries also train here, and Team Canada has had the opportunity to meet some of the fastest elite athletes in the world.

At the end of each week, we travel “down” to Phoenix, where it is just over 1,000 feet above sea level, to complete a test set in order to see how fast we can swim. Considering that we have been training at altitude for an entire week before this, it is a nice breath of fresh air, and much easier to swim. We repeat this process three times.

Also at the end of each week, the swimmers get to look forward to a day off in order to recover properly. This is the day that the massage therapists come in, and we get to relax, catch up on school work and hang out with each other.

Needless to say, even though it is a tonne of hard work, it is also lots of fun.

Athlete in Residence Morgan Bird

Tomorrow would like to welcome Morgan Bird as the website’s first Athlete in Residence. Ms Bird, 21, is a native of Calgary, Alberta, and a member of Canada’s national para swimming team. She will be writing monthly for the website from September 2014 and joins Artist in Residence Jason Skinner as part of Tomorrow’s commitment to building community through news.

You can find all of Ms Bird’s pieces at http://tomorrow.is/athlete-residence/.

Morgan Bird, centre

Canadian para swimmers (l to r) Aurélie Rivard, Morgan Bird and Katarina Roxon at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. Photo courtesy Morgan Bird.

Para swimming: Reaching new audiences

Morgan Bird, centre

Canadian para swimmers (l to r) Aurélie Rivard, Morgan Bird and Katarina Roxon at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. Photo courtesy Morgan Bird.

Four countries, two major competitions, one month – this past summer was another perfect reminder that I cannot get too comfortable in one place for too long.

Living out of a suitcase is something I have become used to and learned to love. Travel is nothing new to me. Since the beginning of my swimming career on the Canadian para national team, my yearning for adventure has grown stronger.

This summer was no different, except for one thing: the inclusion of para swimmers into the able bodied competition.

This does not mean that para athletes have to race against able-bodied athletes. Instead, para athletes race against other para athletes with similar limitations, which are interspersed with able-bodied races during competition.

The first half of the trip included Sabadell, Spain, for staging camp to prepare for competition and Glasgow, Scotland, for the Commonwealth Games.

In Glasgow, I was one of three para swimmers to represent Canada. Interspersing para and non-para had never been done on this scale before, and in my opinion was a huge step in the right direction.

In the past, advocating for para swimming has proven to be quite difficult, as information on it is very sparse and hard to find. As a para swimmer, I am used to going to major international competitions where there are solely para swimmers competing. It is “normal” to see prosthetic limbs and wheelchairs all over the place. Not only that, but it is also very common to see swimmers cruising through the water with just their torso, or finishing a race by slamming the wall with just their head.

It is with breakthroughs like those at the Commonwealth Games for inclusion and media attention that we will see the para side getting the interest and awareness that it deserves.

The second half of the trip included a quick return to British Columbia in Canada for another staging camp before Pasadena, California, for the 2014 Pan Pacific Para-Swimming Championships. It was nice to get back on home soil for five minutes before heading off to the biggest competition of the summer in the US.

This competition was para only, and athletes as well as spectators from all over the world attended. If a city is seriously considering hosting an International Paralympic Committee (IPC) sanctioned event, they have to have appropriate accommodations, such as wheelchair ramps and spacious changing rooms in order to have room for those with limited movement. I have been at some meets where the accommodations have been great, and others where they needed improvement. They were very good in Pasadena.

Being able to race in an international competition is one of the best atmospheres you can put yourself in. At Para Pan Pacific Championships, it was Team Canada’s goal to return home with 25 podium placements. We surpassed that with a total of 62 medals by the end of the meet.

The summer ended with some excellent results and an abundance of memories made with such good friends, and I cannot wait to do it all again next time. I will always consider it an honour to represent my country, and will always sport the maple leaf with pride.