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From Olympian to Masters athlete, Morningstar is happy to be in the water again

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By Rita Mingo

CALGARY  – Like riding a bike, driving a car or playing an instrument, there are some things in life you never forget.

And when you step on that block at the pool, having done so at the highest level in the sport, there’s yet another thing you don’t forget: how to be a winner.

Canadian Olympian Erica Morningstar, who hasn’t competed in 10 years, is having it all come back to her last weekend at the MNP Community and Sport Centre. Taking part in her first Canadian masters swimming championship, the 34-year-old is showing flashes of her youth.

“It’s been so much fun,” smiled Morningstar, a star while at the University of Calgary, competing in the women’s 30-34 division. “I retired from competitive swimming in February of 2013. One of my teammates from university, on the national team, asked if we wanted to get together and do a relay. And we’re like, sure, we’ll have some fun with it. None of us has raced in eight to 10 years. Honestly, it’s just been fun.

“Towards the end of my swim career, that’s maybe what was missing a little bit from it. World records great, but it’s been super fun to come and race again.”

Morningstar and her former and current mates, Jason Block, Joe Byram and Lindsay LeRoux, set a new world time in the mixed medley relay on the opening day of the 2023 Speedo masters, clocking in at 1:47.26. The previous mark was 1:47.50.

On Saturday, she bested the field in her age group and set yet another world time, 1:02.15 in the 100m IM, shattering the old standard of 1:02.52. But she wasn’t done yet. On the final day, Morningstar swam the 50m freestyle in a best-ever 25.12 (old 26.09). These records were pending ratification.

“Honestly, I just started training probably in February this year,” Morningstar explained. “Just on my own, not with a club. I wanted to go swimming, enjoy it. Three times a week. I’m a sprinter so I felt I could swim 50s, maybe 100, and I felt I didn’t really need to do more than that.”

Morningstar has devoted these past years cultivating a career out of the pool. She’s been working for Coca-Cola in national sales for seven years. Interestingly, the same qualities that make an elite international swimmer come in handy in the corporate world.

She alluded to those when she looked back on her time as a competitor, which includes two Olympic appearances, in 2008 and in 2012.

“I think now I obviously have some perspective on the sport being done for 10 years,” she noted. “I honestly feel it’s the relationships I built with people; this meet is a great example. Four teammates I swam with at university come together to have some fun a decade later.

“Definitely the relationships, the competitiveness has stuck with me in other areas of my life. I guess the drive to be the best and do your best at things. Racing again has been wonderful.

“Enjoying what you do, having a passion for it. Making it fun. And then I think the times come naturally after that.”

And though it all came back to her on the opening day of competition, she admitted she was “definitely nervous”.

“Probably equally as nervous today as I was yesterday when we swan the relay,” she said on Day 2. “I think it’s kind of you just go on autopilot once you get on the blocks and the beep goes off. You just race. 100 metres is over pretty quick.”

Born in Regina, Morningstar made her national team debut at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, finishing fifth in the 100m freestyle and earning a pair of bronze medals in relays. In 2009, she helped the University of Calgary Varsity Club women’s squad hoist its first CIS championship banner, winning seven gold medals.

She can now add the Canadian masters to her extensive resume.

“My first, potentially my only,” she laughed. “We’ll see. I’m from Calgary so it was super easy.”