By Rebecca Cheverton
Balancing school and swimming is nothing new for Pan Am Games bronze medallist Jeremy Bagshaw. He has proven to be both successful in the pool and at school, completing bachelor’s and master’s degrees while competing on the international stage.
This next academic chapter though, may be his biggest endeavour yet.
Bagshaw will begin his first year of medical school at the University of Limerick in Ireland at the end of August, while still training to make Team Canada for the Tokyo Olympic Games next summer.
“I’m really excited for it,” said Bagshaw, who leaves for Limerick on Aug. 14. Classes are set to begin Aug. 31, however, due to the pandemic, students are asked to come in two weeks early to quarantine before beginning classes.
“I know it’s going to be a lot of work but I think it will be worthwhile.”
The aspiration of pursuing a medical career began during Bagshaw’s undergraduate degree, where he studied Integrative Biology at the University of California-Berkeley.
“The first two years of my undergrad I kind of wasn’t sure and then through taking a bunch of bio classes and science classes I figured it was something I was leaning towards,” said Bagshaw. “Then I had the chance to shadow a doctor in Victoria for a little while and that kind of just built up my interest in doing it and following that career.”
Bagshaw finished his bachelor’s degree in 2015, but later went on to complete a master’s in Exercise Physiology at the University of Victoria. Throughout his academic achievements, he has also managed to have many successes in the pool. Bagshaw has been on the senior national team since 2015 and has competed at the FINA World Championships (2015, 2017, 2019), Pan Am Games, Commonwealth Games, Pan Pacific Championships, and FISU Games (Summer Universiade).
Unfortunately for Bagshaw, things didn’t go as planned in 2016. At the 2016 Canadian Olympic Trials, he was out-touched by Markus Thormeyer in the 200-m freestyle and just missed the Olympic qualifying time and a spot on the team by 0.23 seconds.
“It was pretty hard for me not make it in 2016,” said Bagshaw. “Especially because I was so close to it.”
Although disappointed, Bagshaw continued to go to the pool everyday after the Olympic Trials to help be a training partner for his fellow High Performance Centre-Victoria teammates Ryan Cochrane and Hilary Caldwell who qualified for the Games.
“Through that extra couple of months of swimming afterwards I realized that I should keep going and that I definitely know that I have it in me. So, knowing that […] is what kickstarted me to keep myself motivated to qualify for the Olympics.”
At the time of receiving his acceptance into medical school, Bagshaw thought his swimming dream may be over. With the university not offering deferrals and the Olympic Games being postponed a year, Bagshaw was left with a really tough decision; pursue his medical career or continue to train for the Olympics.
“It was pretty hard just because when I got accepted I was really excited to get in but then also I was like I’ve been working so long for swimming,” he said. “So, I was kind of on the fence about what I wanted to do.”
Luckily, Martyn Wilby, Swimming Canada’s senior coach for the Olympic program, made Bagshaw aware that he could train with the University of Limerick’s swim team and connected him with their coach.
“That made my decision a lot easier, knowing that I can still train and go to school. I wouldn’t be putting anything on hold, since I already put most of my life on hold for the past four years anyways.”
So, how will Bagshaw balance both school and swimming?
“The University of Limerick actually has one of only two 50-metre pools in Ireland,” said Bagshaw. “Their training times work well with the school program. So, I’ll be able to move my training around that.”
Bagshaw will also live on the university campus with his fellow classmates which will help cut his commute time as he will be both close to the pool and school.
Bagshaw sees this dual focus as a positive component that will help him in his swimming career. He says he’s always been a swimmer who has raced better when he had something else to focus on than just swimming. This is something he felt was lacking in 2016.
“I think it actually makes Trials a lot easier. It makes it a much less stressful meet because there’s not all this pressure on one meet and thinking, ‘oh if I don’t make the team what am I going to do now?’
“I think I put that pressure on myself in 2016 because I didn’t have a plan, I wasn’t in school, so I put a lot more pressure on that meet then I normally would,” he said.
Ultimately, Bagshaw wants swimmers to know that it’s possible to focus on both swimming and pursing a professional degree. He believes swimmers are more than just athletes and that they can achieve things outside of the water as well.
“It’s just exciting, I think it adds another piece of what athletes are,” said Bagshaw. “Up until this I did my undergrad and stuff like that but it wasn’t anything definitive like setting myself up for a career after swimming. Having that piece, another identity for me, already ready when my swimming career is over, is definitely something that [will make] it easier for me to transition.”
Bagshaw is not quite sure what kind of medicine he wants to specialize in yet. He’ll figure that out while in school, but he says he would love to do something involving athletes or working in sports medicine.
“I still really want to be involved in the athlete community, it’s something that has been such a big part of my life. Knowing all the team [doctors] that have worked with us in the past and worked with me and seeing the big impact they can have on athletes’ careers is something that I definitely want to stay involved in.”