Many more weeks of Winter

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For Cougars swimmer Jessica Winter, the big competitions are just starting

Jonathan Hamelin
Sports Editor

Winter has been going strong all season.

And at this point, she does not show any signs of slowing down.

Jessica Winter, a member of the University of Regina Cougars swimming team who has already enjoyed a successful season, has plenty of major events on the horizon.

Recently finishing up the Canada West Championships, the Regina product is the lone Cougar competing in the upcoming CIS Swimming Championships, which start Feb. 23 in Calgary. In April, Winter will be taking part in the World Aquatic Trials in Victoria. Next year, Winter will compete in the Olympic Trials in April, vying for a shot to represent Canada at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, England.

“It feels great,” the pre-medicine student noted of the success she has had. “For swimming, you get in what you put out of it. It’s nice to see that all of my hard work is paying off.”

Though Winter already boasts a swimming resume similar to that of a seasoned veteran, she is only in her first year with the Cougars.

“I am a rookie, but I’ve definitely been involved in the sport for a while now,” said Winter. “When you start going that fast at first, it’s really surprising and it makes you feel like you have potential. It’s really encouraging. You find out very quickly that there is a correlation between how hard your work and what you get out of it.”

As Winter mentioned, she was hardly an inexperienced swimmer before coming to the U of R.  Winter has been swimming for around nine years, most of this time spent with the Regina Optimist Dolphins Swim Club. However, her passion for swimming has been there as long as she can remember.

“I’ve always really loved the water,” she said. “When I was really young, we used to go down to Florida to visit my grandfather and we had a pool there. All I wanted to do was play in the pool all the time. In Regina, I had always done swimming lessons, and one day my mom suggested I join the Dolphins.”

After graduating from Luther College High School last summer, Winter had a decision to make in regards to which university she would join. U of R turned out to be the perfect fit.

“The U of R has awesome opportunities and it’s really paid off for me,” noted Winter. “There are great financial opportunities for swimming. My school is basically paid for, which is really nice. I also received the Centennial Merit scholarship, which was also nice.

“I get to live at home, and get my meals made and laundry done. I can do the programs I want and still swim. It’s a really comforting setting for my first year of university.”

New Cougars swimming coach Sylvain Pineau, who doubles as head coach of RODS, began working with Winter over the summer. His presence also played a big factor in her deciding to come the U of R.

“I started swimming well underneath Sylvain, and I wanted to see where it would go,” said Winter. “He has a tougher coaching style, but I think it’s really good for not only me, but our club too. [Sylvain and I] get along very well and I’m very lucky to have him as a coach.”

For Pineau, the pleasure has been all his.

“Day in and day out she has always given 100 per cent, at least physically,” said a chuckling Pineau. “She’s always on time. If she misses, she will make it up by either coming early or later. Her objective is 100 per cent attendance. Balancing school and swimming is demanding, and I tell her it is an extremely difficult thing she is doing. Still, she comes to practice and enjoys swimming and working with teammates. It’s part of her routine.”

With the busy schedule of a university swimmer, a good work ethic is paramount.

“We have ten practices a week,” said Winter. “We usually have one from 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Those morning practices are tough. On days when we get to sleep in, I’ll still wake up at 4:30 a.m. because my internal clock goes off.  But you get used to it and you go to bed early. It’s all about being disciplined and managing your time wisely. I think I was born with a good work ethic.”

For Winter, it is worth putting in the hard work to be involved with the Cougars team.

“The things with swim teams, and probably many other sports, is those memories and experiences you have with those people are life long,” she said. “I have friends on the team that I will be friends with for life. They become your second family or almost like your first family.”

This season, Winter has excelled in freestyle events. In these events, swimmers can use any stroke technique they would like. For many swimmers, this ends up being the front crawl. Heading into the conference championship in late January, Winter was ranked sixth in the conference in the 200- and 800-metre freestyle events and eighth in the 400m freestyle. Before Canada West, Winter had already met the CIS standard for all three of these events. Winter also entered the 200m butterfly at Canada West.

Heading into the meet, Pineau was confident that Winter could medal. This did not happen. Winter’s top performance came in the 800m freestyle, as she placed ninth with a time of nine minutes 09.50 seconds. She placed 14th in the 200m butterfly (2:30.00) and earned a 15th place finish in both the 200m freestyle (2:07.73) and 400m freestyle (4:30.78). According to Pineau. there was a huge factor in her non-medal performance.

“She definitely went into Canada West fatigued,” said Pineau. “Some of the girls definitively had some rest to deliver personal-best times. With the way swimming preparation goes, the next event she would really be fully prepared for is the World Aquatic Trials. Still, we thought she swam very well in Vancouver. When she goes into an event tired, we are hoping she can be within three percent of her best time. She was well within three percent.”

Heading into CIS, Winter is competing in the 200m, 400m, and 800m freestyle, and potentially the 100m. Since her preparation will not be as good as it could be for this event, Pineau is not setting expectations too high. He is hoping for a top 16 finish. Winter is just hoping to embrace this new experience.

“I’m looking to go into it and have a ton of fun and race hard,” she said. “It’s just another chance for me to get up on the blocks and do what I love to do. I don’t usually put heaving expectations on myself.”

Of course, the big events are still coming for Winter. The World Aquatic Trials is the big event she is focusing on right now. Down the road, however, she could be competing in the Olympics.

“I would love to put up best times at the [World Aquatic Trials],” she said. “I’m not sure what to expect because I’ve never been there before but I’m really looking forward to world trials.

“It will be really exciting to go [the Olympics]. Just to be there and see these people race would be amazing and inspiring.”

Even if Winter does not perform her best at any of her upcoming events, it will not be the end of the world. She has achieved more in her first year than some university swimmers achieve during their whole career. The future is bright.

“There’s always going to be another race,” said Winter. “Canada West was a couple of weeks ago and I’m already going off to another meet. The best thing to do is take something from [each meet] and learn from it, because if you stay upset with every bad performance you don’t get anything valuable from it.

“At Canada West, I got to race against some of Canada’s record holders, and it was interesting to see how I reacted in that situation. Sometimes I went out too fast because I wanted to stay with them but I’m not as fast as them. It really teaches you to race your own race.”

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