After standing side by side on the podium twice at last summer’s World Para Swimming Championships, Tess Routliffe and Danielle Dorris are more than happy to keep sharing.
The S7 athletes were named co-winners of Swimming Canada’s Female Swimmer of the Year – Paralympic Program award for 2023 thanks to their sensational – and identical – performances in Manchester, England, where they each tallied four medals in as many events, including two gold, one silver and one bronze.
The long-time national team teammates are both first-time recipients of the annual honour.
“It’s very humbling. I’m very happy with this recognition,” said Routliffe, a 25-year-old from Caledon, Ont., who trains at Montreal’s High Performance Centre – Quebec. “It was a little bit of a rough year but we made it through and I’m really pleased with the times that I was able to put out at worlds.”
“It feels great,” added Dorris, 21, from Club de natation Bleu et Or in her hometown of Moncton. “I think it shows that my hard work has paid off in a sense.
“To be named co-top athlete is pretty exciting and I couldn’t be more proud. It’s a nice accomplishment.”
The pair agreed competing in the same class has contributed to their success over the years.
“It’s definitely a friendly rivalry. We definitely push each other to work harder,” said Dorris, a two-time Paralympian. “At worlds last summer, we both performed the exact same in terms of medals. It was a lot of fun, and we got to compete together, push each other.
“It’s really fun that we get to share this award. I’m honoured to share this with her.”
“I think it’s important to have friendly rivalries,” offered Routliffe, a veteran from Rio 2016 who missed the Tokyo Games due to a devastating back injury. “If you’re at a high-performance level, you’re bound to be competitive. It’s in everyone’s nature at this level. So I think whether it’s someone on the same team or on a different team, it just pushes you to be better.”
In Manchester, Routliffe’s two triumphs came in the 100-m breaststroke SB7, where she defended her world title from 2022, and in the 200 individual medley, an event in which she had taken silver the year before. She lowered her own Canadian record in the 200 IM and tied her national mark in the 100 breast.
Her other podium finishes came in the 50 butterfly (silver) and the 100 freestyle (bronze).
Dorris also defended a world crown, setting a championship record in the 50 fly, and upgraded from silver (in 2022) to gold in the 100 backstroke. She also placed second in the 50 free and third in the 200 IM.
Asked about her favourite race from Manchester 2023, Routliffe had to pause for a brief moment.
“I’ll pick breaststroke because it’s my favourite stroke by far,” she said. “And I still think there’s a lot to improve on from what I did last summer. I was satisfied with my race, but knew there was more I could have done in the pool.”
Dorris couldn’t quite pick a clear favourite.
“I think my 100 back and 200 IM.
“The 100 back was just a very fun race, myself and Julia Gaffney from the United States, we were pretty much neck and neck until the end, when I somehow managed to out-touch her. It’s usually me getting out-touched, so it was pretty fun to beat her for the first time.
“My 200 IM, being able to squeeze into that third position… It felt pretty cool to medal in an event that I wasn’t expecting.”
With a successful 2023 season now behind them, the teammates are fully focused on Paris 2024.
Dorris hopes to head to the French capital as the reigning 50 fly S7 champion after triumphing in world record time in Tokyo, where she also captured silver in the 100 back.
“At this point in time I’m feeling a lot more relaxed than I did going into Tokyo,” she chuckled. “We don’t have to stress about the Games potentially getting cancelled.
“This feels like a true Paralympic year for me because my first Games I was 13, I don’t remember any of it, I was just there for the experience. Then my second Games in Tokyo, nobody was there to watch us. It was still amazing. I’d go back in a heartbeat to experience that again. But this time I’m going to have the true experience, and I can’t wait.”
A silver medallist in the 200 IM SM7 in Rio, Routliffe has been waiting eight years to get back to the Paralympic stage.
“About 27,” was her response – accompanied by a loud laugh – when asked how hungry she was, on a scale of 1 to 10, eight months from her long-awaited return. “I literally can’t believe it’s been eight years. That’s kind of mind-blowing in a way.
“Yes, Tokyo was heartbreaking, but there’s no reason to dwell on that. Paris is the goal. Tokyo was the goal, but it’s four years later now. You’ve got to move on.”
Swimming Canada’s Senior Team Coach and National Team Performance Manager, Paralympic Program, Mike Thompson, coached Routliffe for a number of years at HPC-Quebec.
“She’s what every coach looks for. She’s hungry to compete, she’s fearless of who she will race and she’s confident and knows she has a chance. This is at every meet and every competition. She has a great team around her and big plans for this season.
“Since coming back from her injury, she’s not only back on the podium but swimming personal bests and getting faster. She really wants to continue this improvement into Paris 2024.”
Long-time CNBO head coach Ryan Allen has been working with Dorris for a decade or so. As a member of the national team staff, he was a first-hand witness to her accomplishments in Tokyo and at the last two world championships.
“I think Danielle goes into this Paralympic year with a bit more comfort and confidence. I mean one, she’s done it before, that’s one thing. And she’s done it under the worst possible conditions (in Tokyo), we could argue.
“She comes in every single day focused on being better than she has. And she’s training like it.”
The 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Swimming Trials, presented by Bell, are set for May 13-19 in Montreal.