Seated at Surrey Sport & Leisure Centre, Arianna Hunsicker’s eyes lit up as she recalled winning not one, but five medals in para-swimming at the Canada Summer Games.
Arianna, who was born with a partial left hand, took home a silver and four bronze medals at the competition in Winnipeg, which ran from July 28 to Aug. 13.
“It was an amazing feeling once I got up there, winning the medals,” said the Cloverdale teen, who is heading into Grade 9 at Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary. “I was expecting nothing out of meet, I was expecting no medals. I was one of the youngest people there. Most people were, like, 22, and I’m only 14.
“It just felt so great.”
She said she ended up “destroying” her time in the first race of the competition, shaving 21 seconds off her time.
“I ended up seeing bronze in that race. It was really exciting, I didn’t expect it at all, I was overjoyed.”
The soft-spoken Surrey teen estimates she puts in about 15 hours of training at the pool every week, 49 out of 52 weeks a year, after joining the world of competitive swimming three years ago.
“I put a lot of work and effort into them and it all pays off in the end,” she said.
Arianna was one of the top two females selected in B.C. to compete in para-swimming at the competition.
Asked how her disability affects her swimming, Arianna said she doesn’t notice it much.
“It probably affects balance, and you can’t pull as much water,” she said. “I’m more used to it, but it probably affects you in some sort of way.”
It may affect her, proud mom Andrea Hunsicker chimed in, “but she’s matching times at an able-body level. She has faster times than able bodied people which is making her so successful in the paras. She’s pushing herself and beating her own times.”
Andrea called her daughter’s commitment “mind-blowing.… In this past year, to see where her focus was, she pays attention to sleep habits, her diet, how much exercise she’s getting, things like that. Things you wouldn’t see a normal 14-year-old do. She could be out at the mall and out with her friends but she’s so committed to her goals.
“She still gets time for that, because we make sure she does,” Andrea added. “We don’t want to see burn out. So if there’s things she wants to do on her off time we let her do it, because she needs it.”
But there’s not much spare time, admitted Arianna, who graduated Grade 8 last year with a 4.0 GPA.
“It’s school, then swim and if I have a day off I usually just hang out with friends,” said Arianna.
“It’s hard to fit in homework, there are some late nights,” the teen added with a grin.
Last March, she attended a CHAMPS conference in Vancouver and this year she graduated to what is called a “junior counsellor” where she helps mentor the younger kids within the organization.
Arianna has her sights set on another national meet in 2018 and has been urged to sign up for the NextGen training Tokyo camp.
“She’s on a path where if things continuing going well, she’ll be eligible for selection for the next Olympics,” said mom Andrea.
“It’s exciting,” remarked Arianna. “I’m hoping to make it to the high goal, in the end, the Olympics.”
She urged others with disabilities to go for it.
“Just know that even though you have a disability – no leg, or some sort of disease or whatever – that you can still do whatever you want. Look at me, I’m going to competitions and gaining medals so if I can do it, you can do it as well.”