After a record-setting year, Taylor Ruck has been named the top female aquatic athlete in Canada.
The 18-year-old Kelowna, B.C., native is one of four swimming recipients of this year’s Aquatics Canada awards, claiming Female Athlete of the Year from the umbrella organization representing swimming, diving, water polo and artistic swimming.
Meanwhile, her coach, Ben Titley, has been named Coach of the Year, teammate Markus Thormeyer is the Male Athlete of the Year, and Swimming Canada is the Governing Body of the Year.
“There’s so many great Canadian athletes and it’s so humbling to be considered the top Canadian female,” said Ruck, who is competing at the Lausanne Cup with the High Performance Centre – Ontario this weekend in Switzerland.
Ruck won the most medals ever by a Canadian woman at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, in April, tying the all-time Commonwealth record with eight. Although she already had two Olympic relay medals to her name, she calls Gold Coast her “breakout meet.”
“That kind of got me to set my sights higher. I just had so much fun there, that was a really good meet for me and kind of what led to all of this success,” she said. “I didn’t really have a set number of medals in mind. But I think when it got to No. 6, Ben started putting his sights on eight medals, so I was like, ‘OK, I guess this is attainable.’ ”
Ruck went on to set the all-time Canadian record with five medals at the Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo in August. That included a win in the 200-m freestyle over Olympic champion Katie Ledecky, which earned Ruck Pan Pac gold and a No. 1 world ranking in the event.
In typical fashion, Ruck shrugs off the accomplishment: “Having that medal in place kind of raised the expectations around me a little bit, but I haven’t really had a meet since then that’s a huge meet. I guess that will be (Canadian Swimming) Trials (in Toronto in April), so I’m just looking forward to Trials and looking forward to (the 2019 FINA World Championships in Gwanju, Korea, in July) and seeing what I can do there.”
It’s been a somewhat uneven road for Ruck, who tasted Olympic success at 16, but entered 2018 having not qualified for the national team the previous year. The experience has taught her she can’t take anything for granted as she works towards the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
“I can’t expect myself to make (the team) at Trials. You can never expect anything for certain,” she said. “But I think as long as I just keep my head down and work hard I’ll be ready.”
Ruck has added the rigours of being a college freshman at Stanford University to her plate this year, where the varsity team trains alongside such pros as Ledecky and fellow Olympic champion Simone Manuel.
“It’s definitely very different,” she said. “I’d never taken Spanish before, and the very first day (the professor) just started talking in Spanish. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what did I get myself into?’ But I finished out really well and I’m proud. I’ve learned how to manage my time but it was definitely a process though.”
Ruck says Titley is deserving of the Coach of the Year award, as well as much of the credit for her award.
“Coach Ben is just so amazing and got me to where I am. I’m so grateful for him and all my teammates who push me every day in practice,” she said.
Meanwhile it’s the second award of the week for Thormeyer, who on Monday was named Swimming Canada’s Male Swimmer of the Year. Ruck was nudged out on the female side by Kylie Masse for that award, which is weighted more heavily to the single top performance of the year. Aquatics Canada recognized Ruck for her overall body of work in the 2018 season.
Swimming Canada taking the governing body award rounds out a strong showing for the sport. The organization built upon the competition structure announced last year, deployed electronic learning opportunities that will continue to grow and has taken on a leading national role in Safe Sport development, including hiring a full-time resource to ensure swimming remains one of the safest sporting environments in Canada.
“This is a proud day for our organization, and especially for Taylor, Markus and Ben,” said Swimming Canada CEO Ahmed El-Awadi. “They had outstanding years and they were excellent representatives of our swimming family and our country on the international stage.”