By Jim Morris
Having made the decision to retire from competitive swimming, national team veteran Carson Olafson is making plans for the future while devoting more time to learning about his Métis heritage.
Olafson, who grew up in Chilliwack, B.C, and trained at the High Performance Centre – Vancouver, rarely used to talk about being a member of the Métis Nation British Columbia. He now believes people speaking out about their heritage is a way to deal with the racism Indigenous people have endured over the years.
“I think it’s very important for that to be known and that to be normalized in our community,” he said.
The recent discovery of close to 1,000 unmarked graves – many containing the bodies of children – on the grounds of former residential schools in Kamloops, B.C., and the Cowessess First Nation in southern Saskatchewan, made Olafson think of the generational trauma many Indigenous people deal with.
“It was horrible,” he said about finding the graves. “It made me very sad. All the residential schools are such an atrocity and the way they handled it. Obviously, it’s such a huge disgrace to Canada.”
The residential schools were just an example of “the Canadian government’s goal to eradicate and get rid of Indigenous culture.”
Many of Olafson’s family come from southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Growing up he was lucky to have a large First Nations population around Chilliwack.
“I’m grateful we spent a lot of time learning about their issues,” he said.
When he started attending the University of British Columbia, Olafson enrolled in anthropology classes.
“It’s definitely a passion of mine to learn more about the history and the lessons of the past in relation to Aboriginal people,” he said.
Studying and understanding Indigenous history gave Olafson a greater appreciation for his own heritage.
“I’m fascinated with the origins of humanity,” he said. “There are so many different aspects.”
Olafson recently competed at the Olympic Swimming Trials, Presented by Bell. The 24-year-old swam three events, with his best result a fourth in the 200-metre freestyle. In other years that likely would have earned him a spot on the 4×200 relay, but Canada did not qualify for that event at the Tokyo Olympics, meaning Olafson fell short of making the team.
“That was probably my last swim meet,” he said. “I’m grateful looking back on my career overall, making three national teams and getting the adventures I’ve had with the people whom I’m such good friends with. It was awesome.”
The original plan was to retire in 2020 after the Olympics. That changed when those Games were delayed due to COVID-19.
An extra year of training, often interrupted by pool closures and cancelled meets, was difficult.
“I’m a big fan of testing myself in competition,” Olafson said. “I tried to keep my head in it but sometimes I just wanted it to be over.
“I know It’s the right choice for me at this point.”
Among the highlights of Olafson’s swimming career was being a member of the 4×100-m freestyle relay team that finished sixth at the 2017 FINA World Championships in Budapest.
“It was crazy with the fans and making a final is pretty special, especially with the guys I trained with every day,” he said.
Attending the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, where he was a member of the 4×200-m freestyle relay team that finished fourth and the 4×100-m freestyle team that was fifth, also was special.
“I enjoyed all the different athletes and people from all over the world,” he said. “Coming to that massive competition in an outdoor pool was really something amazing and something I’ll never forget.”
Now that he doesn’t have to train for swimming Olafson plans to spend more time mountain biking, cycling and playing his guitar.
After spending so many hours at indoor pools he’s looking forward to having his face in the sun.
“It’s really something you miss when you’re in the pool,” he said.
As for the future, “I still have to figure a large portion of that out.”
He wants to finish his Kinesiology degree, then may pursue becoming a firefighter or teacher. He also would like to work with Indigenous children, teaching them about their heritage.
“I do love learning about these things and having the knowledge,” Olafson said. “I think it would be awesome to give that back.”