To Jacob Brayshaw, being named to the Lima 2019 Parapan American Games team was a dream come true. At 16 years old, this is Brayshaw’s first time representing Canada at a major event, an opportunity that he does not take for granted.
“It was crazy. I didn’t really believe it at first,” said Brayshaw. “It took a while to set in because I never thought that I’d make a team so it caught me off guard. I went to Trials on short notice and I knew I had a chance at making the team, but not a big one.”
In the lead up to the Games, Brayshaw and a number of his teammates have been paired with former national team members through Swimming Canada’s new mentorship program.
The program was conceived as part of Swimming Canada’s ongoing commitment to guide the next generation of swimmers. Associate Director of High Performance and Para Swimming National Coach Wayne Lomas’ vision was for former national team members to mentor young swimmers as they prepared for major Games.
He enlisted Jocelyn Jay, Coordinator, High Performance Para-swimming Programs, and Darda Sales, both former national team swimmers to lead the initiative.
For three-time Paralympian Adam Purdy, the opportunity to transfer knowledge and to connect with athletes on a personal level has been fulfilling. Though he has had a successful swimming career, Purdy is far more interested to invest in the future than he is to reminisce about the past. The 38-year-old has been working closely with Brayshaw for the past four months.
“It has been such a positive experience connecting with the Para-swimming team through the mentorship program,” Purdy said. “Communicating my experience to Jacob, an upcoming athlete, has made me reflect on my role as a Canadian athlete.”
When Brayshaw was approached about the idea of being involved, he knew he had nothing to lose.
“I think it’s really cool because they’ve actually been through it so I think it’s easier to connect and to understand them more,” said Brayshaw. “It’s helped me prepare for the Games and understand what’s going on.”
Purdy’s best advice to the young swimmer was to “Enjoy it! Don’t be too serious,” said Brayshaw. “Because I do that sometimes,” he added.
A second key member to the program has been multi-Paralympic champion Stephanie Dixon who is playing a major role at the Parapan Am Games. Besides serving as the chef de mission, the Brampton, Ont. native is making time to help Arianna Hunsicker navigate through her first Games experience.
On the bus ride back to the athlete’s village following her first ever swim at a major Games event, Hunsicker had the opportunity to sit with Dixon and discuss various things.
“We sat together and talked about my race and how to deal with my nerves because it was my very first race and I was nervous for it,” Hunsicker said. “But it’s nice to be able to talk to her and to know that she’s here for me.”
Prior to the Games, the 16-year-old got a chance to chat with Dixon over Facebook but Hunsicker said it was nice to meet her for the first time in Lima.
“It’s nice to have someone who’s been through everything and know what it’s like,” she said. “It was cool to meet her here in person and I’m sure we will stay in contact after.”
For team manager Jocelyn Jay, the mentorship program offers a way for former team members to stay involved in the program.
“It creates excitement with our current athletes to have our Paralympians and former Canadian team members encouraging them, following them and inspiring them to continue the legacy of what it means to represent Canada,” said Jay.
Para swimming action continues through Saturday at the 2019 Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru.
Preliminary races begin at 9 a.m. local time / 10 a.m. ET followed by the finals that get underway at 5 p.m. local time / 6 p.m. ET.
Full results: https://www.lima2019.pe/en/results