This preview article for the 17th FINA World Championships is powered by Canada’s Dairy Farmers’ Fuelling Women’s Champions, a movement dedicated to recognizing and empowering our country’s female athletes.
By Jim Morris
There is a quote that says a person should focus on the journey, not the destination.
When Michelle Toro holds the bronze medal she won as part of the 4×100-metre freestyle relay team at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, she thinks about how the long journey she travelled made arriving at her destination that much more special.
Toro (nee Williams) was the oldest member of the relay team. While teenagers Penny Oleksiak and Taylor Ruck were celebrating a podium finish in their first Games, Toro was thinking about the times she doubted if her Olympic dream would ever come true.
“In terms of me and my career, looking back five or 10 years ago, I never would have thought I would end up with an Olympic medal to show my kids one day,” said Toro, who will be part of Swimming Canada’s team at this summer’s FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary. “It’s pretty cool.”
Toro qualified for her second world championship team at the 2017 Canadian Swimming Trials in Victoria. She won the 50-m freestyle and was third in the 100-m free in a personal best time of 54.14 seconds.
Bringing home an Olympic medal was validation for Toro, and a reward for her years of effort and sacrifice.
“Success is sort of a relative thing,” said the 26-year-old. “It has a different meaning to different people based on the process they have gone through to get where they are.
“For me, it (the Olympic medal) is very, very meaningful and very valuable. Just having that physical object of the Olympic medal to show other people. This is all the work I have put in and now I have it to share with people. It’s pretty cool to have.”
One of the people who most appreciates the path Toro has followed is Ben Titley, her coach at the High Performance Centre – Ontario.
“Michelle didn’t really start to make a presence on the national team until the age of 22,” said Titley. “She has gone through not really being a national team member to being a member of the relays to swimming individually.
“She is one of the nicest, most diligent, most professional, hard-working athletes I have ever coached. She maximized her potential. As a coach, seeing that, that’s what makes you enjoy the sport.”
The last year has been a whirlwind for Toro, both in and out of the pool.
After the Olympics, the Toronto native competed in five relays at the FINA World Swimming Championships (25-m) in Windsor, Ont., where she helped win gold in the 4×50-m freestyle and bronze in the 4×50-m mixed freestyle. Individually, she finished 10th in the 50-m freestyle.
Soon after the world championships she married Guillermo Toro, a Toronto-area swimming coach.
The couple has bought a condo in Toronto and are looking for their first dog. In September, Toro will begin studying nursing at the University of Toronto.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to be,” Toro said. “I kind of dabbled with the idea of being a doctor. I like the more hands-on (of) nursing. You kind of build relationships with your patients.”
Toro can even draw parallels between nursing and racing the 50 free.
“That’s the race where there is no room for error,” she said. “In the health-care field, there’s not really room for error.
“That sort of mentality is going to help me out with my future as a health-care provider.”
Toro has been part of a 4×100-m relay team that finished fifth at the 2015 World Championships and won gold at the 2015 Pan Am Games.
At Rio, she swam in the morning preliminaries, but was replaced by Oleksiak for the evening finals. It was a move Toro understood strategically but was still a bitter pill that took time to digest.
“I sort of gave myself a certain amount of time to be upset, then I completely switched my focus to being part of the team,” she said.
“I totally feel like I was part of the team. For Canada, that’s the sort of mentality we need to get used to, because all the best teams that are medaling have more than four swimmers in their relays.”
One of Toro’s goals in Budapest is to reach the 50-m final.
“I’m learning every time I race it,” she said. “There’s a lot of strategy. It just happens a lot faster than other races.
“The way I’ve been training hasn’t quite translated into a race yet. I have a lot of potential I believe. I can go a lot faster.”
Being one of the oldest members on a Canadian women’s team brimming with young talent sometimes leaves Toro playing a dual role.
“I do feel at times I’m like their mother,” she laughed. “Then, other times, I’m their friend.
“They keep me young. They teach me things. I like to think I teach them things. Mostly, I just try to lead by example.”
Titley said Toro is an example for the other swimmers to follow.
“Michelle is a role model for a group of young athletes, in terms of how hard she works, how diligently professional she is,” he said. “She does it all with a smile, all with grace, all with humility.”
Toro knows balancing nursing school and swimming will be difficult, but she hasn’t ruled out competing at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
“The age of female sprinting is a lot higher,” she said. “As long as I keep taking care of my body and staying in shape, anything can happen.”
Titley believes Toro’s future is in her own hands.
“She is achieving now what she didn’t do earlier on,” he said. “She’s winning medals internationally. How much (more) has she in the sport? It’s not my job to put limitations on her.”
Fuel for Thought with Michelle Toro
What does it take to fuel a woman champion? It takes training, support, determination, perseverance, drive, and of course a balanced diet filled with nutritious food including at least three servings of dairy daily. Here is a look inside what it takes to fuel Michelle Toro:
Q: How important is nutrition to a competitive swimmer and how do you ensure you get the proper nutrition to fuel your body?
A: Nutrition is very important, to make sure you have the right things in your body to fuel the next training session and to recovery from it. Timing is also very important to maximize recovery – it’s important to get the right amount of recovery nutrition in as soon as possible so that I can be ready to go for the next practice.
Q: What are some staple foods in your diet?
A: Eggs are probably my #1 staple food. Dinners alternate between salmon, shrimp, chicken, and ground beef, with veggies. Fruit is another staple: bananas, frozen berries (in smoothies), grapefruit
Q: What show are you watching/book are you reading?
A: I am watching House of Cards and Reading The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking.
Q: What is your favourite place you have travelled to?
A: I love Barcelona. It’s a fun city with so much to do and see, and it’s very easy to get around.
Q: After your swimming career comes to an end, where do you see yourself or what do you want to be remembered for?
A: I’ll be a nurse (maybe in a children’s hospital but not sure yet). I hope to be remembered for as someone who persevered for a long time, dealt with lots of challenges but never wavered in motivation and drive. Someone who enjoyed the journey and now has an Olympic medal as a bonus, to symbolize all those years of hard work, to show others that anything is possible with the right mindset, tools and support!