By Jim Morris
Some people are natural leaders. Others grow into the role.
Nicolas-Guy Turbide remembers making his first national Para-swimming team as a 14 year old. The Quebec City native didn’t speak English but learned the language and how to be an elite athlete by watching and listening to the team veterans.
That shy teenager has grown into a Paralympic medallist and a leader on the national team. The seed for that growth was planted in those early years when Turbide was seen but rarely heard.
“For me I had the opportunity to listen to everybody and learn the language,” said the 20-year-old visually-impaired swimmer. “I tried to listen to what my teammates were saying, what they liked about the sport, what they disliked. What they would like to change about it.”
It’s that background in the sport which has helped Turbide to decide to stand for election for the World Para Swimming Athletes Advisory Group. The advisory group’s role is to act as a liaison between the athletes and the World Para Swimming Management Team.
“I think I really wanted to put myself in the situation where I can influence some people or the opinions of others,” he said. “I think I am ready to get on with that.”
Para-swimming has grown both in the number of participants and the people watching the sport. Turbide believes the athletes should have some say in the sport’s direction.
“It’s growing so fast . . . as a movement and a sport,” he said. It’s important to keep “influencing the Olympic side and making them know we are here and competing for excellence and we’re training as hard as we can every day.
“Just moving the movement of the sport (to make it bigger) and (helping) the general population understand it a little bit more.”
Turbide points to the important statement Para-sport made last year when the International Paralympic Committee banned the Russian team from the Rio 2016 Paralympics over allegations the state was involved in the use of performance enhancing drugs. In contrast, the International Olympic Committee gave 278 Russians clearance to compete at the Olympic Games after their eligibility in Rio de Janeiro was left to individual sports.
“They (the IPC) showed what they really think about those issues and it was a good step forward for the movement,” said Turbide. “They showed they wouldn’t always follow the IOC and the Olympic side, which was good.”
James Hood, Swimming Canada’s senior manager, high performance Para-swimming programs, said Turbide’s leadership skills on the Canadian team make him ideally suited to help grow the sport internationally.
“He is excellent on reading some of the needs of his fellow swimmers and being able to react and support them,” said Hood.
“Nicolas brings a fresh view to the program and can be a voice of the younger generation, while still maintaining a maturity that exceeds his years.”
Paralympic gold medallist Aurelie Rivard said Turbide is a quiet leader that has earned the respect of his teammates and those he swims against.
“He’s not going to stand up on a chair and tell people what to do or where to go,” said Rivard, who won three gold and a silver medal at the Rio Paralympics. “Just by his actions.
“He’s the hardest working kid I have ever met. He’s always going to be there for everybody. He hangs out with everybody. He is very positive. He is very focused. He impresses me every day. He would be a great ambassador.”
Turbide, who is coached by Marc-Andre Pelletier, won his first international medal when he finished third in the 400-metre freestyle at the 2014 Pan Pacific Para-swimming championships. His breakout performance saw him win six medals, three of them gold, and set an Americas record, at the 2015 Toronto Parapan Am Games.
Turbide won his first Paralympic medal in Rio by finishing third in the 100-m backstroke in a Canadian record time. He also became the first visually impaired Canadian swimmer to break the one-minute barrier in the race.
“It (the medal) was just a way to reward the hard work for the last four and five years,” said Turbide, who also reached the final of the 50-m freestyle. “It just reflected on the time I have put in the pool and in the gym. The sacrifices I have done to achieve that.”
A great season was capped off when Turbide was named Swimming Canada’s male Para-swimmer of the year. Past winners included people like Benoit Huot, Nathan Stein and Donovan Tildesley.
“For me it was probably one of the highlights of the year,” said Turbide. “The great history of Para-swimmers we’ve had in the last couple of years. It’s great to be among Ben and the other guys.”
Turbide is part of the Canadian team that was supposed to compete at the World Para Swimming Championships in Mexico City. With the world championships postponed due the recent devastating earthquake, Swimming Canada will host the Canadian Open, October 2-4, at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre.
The Open will provide an opportunity for all of the Canadian athletes who were going to compete at the World Para Swimming Championships to race in the same competition window as the world championships would have occurred. It will also provide an opportunity for athletes to post times to be considered for 2018 Commonwealth Games selection.
Some athletes find it difficult to focus and train in the year after a Paralympics. Turbide has managed to avoid any malaise.
“I think I have managed quite well this year to keep my focus in my training and go fast in swim meets,” he said. “I could have slacked off a bit but I have actually set new goals for myself.
“I am looking forward to . . . seeing if I can improve on last year.”