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Overcoming shoulder injury helped Turbide become a better backstroker

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By Jim Morris

An injury usually is a competitive swimmer’s worst nightmare, but Nicolas-Guy Turbide believes the process he went through healing a sore shoulder helped improve his backstroke.

“Sometimes you need to take the negatives and step back, like this, and turn it into a positive,” explained Turbide, who earned a 100-metre backstroke bronze medal in Canadian record time at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

At the beginning of this year the 21-year-old, who trains with coach Marc-Andre Pelletier at the Club de Natation Region de Quebec, noticed some soreness in his left shoulder. The pain, caused by wear and tear, made it difficult for Turbide to work on his backstroke. “I didn’t take care of myself,” said the visually impaired swimmer who will represent Canada at the Pan Pacific Para Swimming Championships in Cairns, Australia, Aug. 9-13.

Each pool session will be live streamed on the Swimming Australia Website, Swimming Australia YouTube page  and the Australian Dolphins Facebook page. Swimming Canada will also have live updates on Twitter throughout the meet.

“I should have listened to my body a bit more. As a competitive swimmer sometimes it’s hard to listen to what your body is telling you. Sometimes you just don’t want to listen to it. It’s not telling you what you want. I think you need to find a balance between what you want to hear and what you need to do.”

For a couple of weeks Turbide concentrated on his freestyle, which required a different motion and muscles. With the shoulder feeling better he resumed his backstroke training and was pleasantly surprised. “In some ways I think it helped me be a better backstroker when I came back,” he said. “I gained different abilities that I think I didn’t have before. I think it just made me swim a different way that wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t injured. In some ways I think it was a good thing at the end. It just gave me a different perspective on my stroke and what I’m doing in the water.”

The extra work spent on his freestyle also paid dividends. Turbide broke his own Canadian record in the S13 50-m freestyle at the recent Canadian Swimming Trials in Edmonton.

“This is probably my best year swimming freestyle,” said Swimming Canada’s Male Para-swimmer of the Year for 2016. “Training a little differently (due to the shoulder) gave me better basics in every stroke.”

Turbide expects to swim the 50-m freestyle, 100-m back, 200-m individual medley and 100-m butterfly in Australia. The 100-back remains Turbide’s strongest event but he hasn’t ruled out working more on his freestyle leading up the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.

“We want to keep it diverse,” said Turbide. “Yes, in Rio we put all the eggs in the same basket for 100 backstroke. Now I think we are at a good time in the cycle to just see what’s around and how can we move everything in the water at the same time.”

Michel Berube, Swimming Canada’s NextGen & Pathways Coach, Para-swimming, will coach Turbide at the Para Pan Pacs. He said it’s up to Turbide and Pelletier to decide what strokes they will concentrate on for Tokyo but believes freestyle is an option. “I think he will become a really good freestyler,” said Berube. “Looking at his stroke they do blend very well together. I certainly believe he will become a threat in both strokes.”

Turbide finished eighth in the 50-m free in Rio, setting a Canadian record.

The Para Pan Pacs will be Turbide’s first major international competition since Rio. His events were not included in the recent Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Turbide was named to the Canadian team that was supposed to compete last year at the World Para Swimming Championships in Mexico City. When the championships were postponed due to a devastating earthquake, Turbide swam at the Canadian Open in Toronto where he set Americas records in the 200-m IM and 100-m freestyle.

The Canadian Para-swimming team had spent several weeks training for the world championships, so not being able to attend was disappointing. “In some ways it was hard for the first three or four days realizing you don’t have the opportunity to compete at the highest level,” said Turbide. “At the same time, you find compromises and you find a way to make it happen next year. I think I managed pretty well during the last couple of years to keep myself busy with different swim meets. I took part in as many meets as I could even if we didn’t have a big international meet.”

Berube doubts Turbide will need to shake off any competitive rust in Australia. “He’s able to execute and train at a very high level of intensity which we don’t see in a lot of swimmers,” said Berube. “He’s kept that edge all the time. I believe he’s really hungry for this meet. He really wants to swim fast.”

Turbide plans to use the next two years to help decide which events he will swim in at the next Paralympics.

“I’m not limiting myself to anything,” he said. “My priority is still the 100 backstroke but I’m open to take part in other events, either to be more prepared for my 100 back or just expand my abilities in the water.”