It was just three short years from the day Rick began training seriously to the day he was standing on the blocks for the finals of the men’s 200 metre freestyle at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, about to go stroke-for-stroke with the established stars of the swimming world. That was, he says, a defining moment in his life.
Growing up in Salmon Arm, with a father who was President of the local swimming club and two older brothers swimming in the “Summer League” – training in May and June, competing on weekends in July and August – Rick naturally became involved himself and discovered he was very good at it. In fact, he was the first person to go under a minute in the Summer League in the 100 metre backstroke, a record that stood for the next 10 years.
Rick moved to Victoria in 1997 for the University of Victoria and its swimming program. It was the first time he had trained year-round, with sessions twice daily. He thought he was a pretty good swimmer but “I was annihilated in the first few workouts,” he laughs. Instead of discouraging him, it ignited the drive and determination of the first-class athlete. “I was able to adapt very quickly,” he says. “That’s always been my strength as an athlete.”
By the end of his first semester, he had switched strokes to freestyle and qualified for the National Championships. In his second semester, he qualified for the Canadian team at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Malaysia. Rick went on to win the most international medals in Canadian swimming history, capturing 27 medals across three Commonwealth Games, six World Championships, and three Olympic Games, becoming only the eighth Canadian swimmer ever to compete in three Olympics. He has also reached the podium in many other major competitions. Yet what he considers the highlight of his career was not a medal performance but his sixth place finish in the men’s 200 metre freestyle at the 2004 Olympics in Athens – one of the greatest and fastest races in Olympic swim history – against legendary swimmers Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett (Australia), Pieter van den Hoogenband (Netherlands) and Michael Phelps (USA). “It was my biggest race and biggest accomplishment,” he says. “That will stick with me the rest of my life.”
Swimming out of Victoria except in 2001-2003 when he attended the University of Calgary, Rick set 24 national records, including one that may never be broken: being the only Canadian to win every freestyle event – 50m, 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m – at a single national championship. He was a national team member from 1997 and Captain of the national team from 2002 until his retirement from swimming in 2009. He has given back to the sport through his coaching and was an executive member of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Commission from 2008 to 2012, as well as acting as Athlete Mentor in the Athletes’ Village during the 2010 Winter Olympics.
SPONSORED BY UVIC VIKES
Stephanie Dixon is an elite athlete, pure and simple. Her spirit, passion and drive are what separate her from the rest of the pack. Despite being born with only one leg, Stephanie has trained and competed against able-bodied athletes at the local, provincial, and national level and she is almost without peer in her athletic career.
Before her commitment to swimming, Stephanie was involved in many sports including baseball, gymnastics, diving, skiing and horseback riding. Her parents wanted her to be involved in as many physical activities as possible while growing up, so that she would know that even though she looked a little different than everyone else, she was still able to do anything anyone could do. Their strategy worked and then some.
Stephanie has commented that:
"Swimming has always been my passion. From the moment I was introduced to it at the age of two, I loved being in the water and that love has never faded. Having been born missing my right leg and hip, overcoming obstacles and challenges has always been part of my life, but being challenged changed at some point from a way of life to a passion. I absolutely loved it when someone doubted me based on my disability because I then had the opportunity to prove myself. Having a love for the water and for challenges, joining competitive swimming seemed to be the perfect thing for me to do."
Stephanie started competitive swimming when she was 13 years old and at her very first competition, an official informed her that she should get classified and go to special meets to compete against other swimmers at her ability level. This was her introduction to the world of SWAD (Swimmers with a Disability).
At the age of 16 at the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney she won five gold medals, all world records -- setting a new Canadian record for most gold medals won at a single Games. Representing her country again at the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, she won one gold, six silver, and one bronze, setting a new world record in the 100 metre backstroke. In 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, Stephanie won gold, silver and bronze, and once again broke her world record mark in the 100 metre backstroke.
In 2003, Stephanie moved from Toronto to Victoria to pursue a degree in Psychology and compete for the UVic varsity swim team. She represented the university against able-bodied athletes after qualifying for the Canadian University Championships. She placed 16th in the 200 metre backstroke while setting a new world record in her Para category. For the accomplishment, Stephanie was named the University of Victoria Athlete of the Year in 2005, a title she won again in her second year.
While Stephanie has been out of competition since 2010, she left the sport with 19 Paralympic medals (7 gold, 10 silver, and 2 bronze) and still holds the World Record in her Para category for the 50, 100, and 200 metre backstrokes.
There can be no argument with her observation:
"The nature of sport is competition and challenge, competing and challenging yourself to become the best athlete possible and to bring the best out of yourself. The bottom line is that I am an athlete trying to do just that. Not a SWAD athlete and not an able-bodied athlete, but an athlete… period."
Sponsored by Pacific Coast Swimming / UVic VIKES