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Perseverance pays off for Male Para Swimmer of the Year Turbide

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There was a time early in 2021 when Nicolas-Guy Turbide wasn’t even sure he would be able to compete at the Tokyo Paralympic Games. And it had nothing to do with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to a nagging back injury, the visually impaired swimmer from Quebec City, a Paralympic bronze medallist in the 100-m backstroke S13 in 2016, could barely train from February to April.

At one point, he was out of the pool completely for a few weeks to give his body a chance to recover.

But the 25-year-old and his long-time coach from Club de Natation Région de Québec, Marc-André Pelletier, weren’t about to throw in the towel.

“I saw sports medicine specialists. I used every option available to me to try to fix it as quickly as possible,” said Turbide. “Eventually, I had to learn to change the way I trained completely. Everything I had learned over the past 12, 13, 14 years in the sport of swimming, I had to throw it all out the window and relearn how to train.

“It was a very fast transition, over a period of four or five months, but in the end it paid off. It allowed me to learn even more about myself, and what I need to do if I want to continue to perform at the highest level in this sport over the next few years.”

Paying off is an understatement. Last Aug. 26, on the second day of competition at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, Turbide repeated as a Paralympic 100 back S13 medallist, this time claiming silver to improve on his 2016 result and match his performance from the 2019 world championships.

A few days later, he reached his second final of the Games, placing eighth in the 50-m freestyle.

Thanks to his remarkable achievements, Turbide was named Swimming Canada’s 2021 Male Swimmer of the Year – Paralympic Program, adding to his previous Big Splash awards from 2016, 2018 and 2019.

Turbide, who has been working with Pelletier since 2014, credits his mentor for a big part of his success.

“Marc-André has certain qualities that only a very small number of coaches have. It’s these types of coaches who take athletes to finals and to the podium at the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“Over the years, Marc and I have built a great bond, but the most important thing is that this bond was built on the trust he had in me and vice versa. Marc instills confidence, he’ll do everything he can to ensure his athletes have confidence in themselves in what they’re going to do in the pool.”

Turbide points out to the past year as the perfect example.

“Basically, Marc made me relearn from A to Z everything I had learned. Even though, at first, I was a little doubtful about the process, he told me I had all the experience, all the tools I needed to do it. The more I train with Marc, the more confident I feel.”

That confidence was on full display on the day of the 100-m back in Tokyo.

After taking third place in the morning preliminaries, Turbide mounted a spectacular comeback in the second half of the evening final, overcoming Thomas van Wanrooij of the Netherlands and Vladimir Sotnikov of the Russian Paralympic Committee after the turn to capture silver behind Belarusian superstar Ihar Boki, who shattered his own world record.

“I wouldn’t say I had a bad performance in the morning, but I didn’t swim as fast as I thought I was going to. My priority was to protect my back so I could give everything I had in the final. Most of my opponents were younger, eager, their goal was clearly to beat me, and they all told me in the ready room before the race,” Turbide said with a laugh. “And it’s perfect like that. It’s that kind of competition that makes sports so much fun.

“In the evening, I was in my bubble, very focused. I had a job to do and that was to swim as fast as possible after the turn. The second part of the race is my strength. Mentally, I was maybe a little stronger and that’s where you could see how important experience is. And also all the training we did in the months leading up to the Games.”

After Tokyo, Turbide went back to Laval University part-time during the fall semester. It allowed him, as he put it, to “slowly settle back into everyday life”, to enjoy the final weeks summer, hang out with friends and play golf, a game he says he missed a lot over the past few years.

He is now back in school full time in financial planning, with a goal of graduating in the winter of 2024, just before the next Paralympic Games in Paris.

“My studies are another goal that I consider very important,” he said. “I’ve noticed over the years that I’m more successful both in the pool and in school when I have a good balance between the two.”

Swimming wise, Paris is still a long way down the road, but the world championships are just around the corner, in June in Portugal. Turbide, however, has another short-term athletic goal in his sights a few weeks later.

“In my case, it may seem surprising but my biggest goal this summer is the Commonwealth Games. This is the only major international competition in which I have not had the chance to compete during my career because there were no events for swimmers with a visual impairment. This is a goal I set for myself even before Tokyo.

“We have a great year of competition ahead of us, which is nice after what we’ve been through over the past few years. Coming back to a team environment, the gradual return to some normalcy, is going to be good, not only for me but for all my teammates as well.”