Toronto Star

The discipline to forgo birthday cake


Sitting cross-legged on her parents couch, in a baggy T-shirt and sweatpants, Brittany MacLean looks a lot like the university student that she is.

But her broad, muscular shoulders and perpetuall­y wet hair are signs of what she’s better known as: Canada’s distance queen in the pool.

This year alone, MacLean won five major internatio­nal swimming medals, picked up swimmer of the year accolades in Canada and the United States, where she is studying sports management at the University of Georgia, and set a handful of new swim records on both sides of the border.

On her way to one of her three American university records she beat Missy Frank- lin, the swimming phenom who won five Olympic medals at the 2012 London Games.

It’s been a pretty great year for the 20year-old from Etobicoke who started swimming seriously when she was 7 because whatever her older sister Heather did, she had to do, too. (Heather is a former member of the national swim team.)

And already, MacLean is being touted for even greater success next year, particular­ly at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto, where she could be one of the big hometown stars.

The Pan Ams are MacLean’s best chance to stand on the top step of the podium, watch the flag rise up and hear “O Canada” play for her.

That’s something she’s been dreaming about experienci­ng again since she won four medals, including two golds at the junior worlds in 2011.

But ask MacLean about next year and she hesitates. “I’ve never competed in a big event in Canada, let alone in the city I grew up in,” she says, clearly thrilled by the idea of doing just that.

“I want to get really excited for the Pan Ams but I don’t know yet if I’m going to be competing there. I hope to be.”

This isn’t a crisis of confidence. With three national records to her name in the 400-, 800- and 1,500-metre distances, she’s as close to a sure thing to wear the Team Canada uniform as Ryan Cochrane, Canada’s two-time Olympic medallist.

But as her dad, Canada Post worker Dan MacLean, says, “In our house, you don’t talk about things until you win them.”

The swimming trials in which she’ll have

to earn her way on to Canada’s Pan Am Games team aren’t until April 2015.

So for now, she’ll let everyone else talk about their great expectatio­ns for her next year and she’ll focus on what she does best: training super hard to make it happen.

MacLean has all the physical attributes needed to be a great swimmer — to get to the Olympics, as she did in London as an 18-year-old, you have to — but that’s not where her real strength lies.

“The real special thing she’s got is work ethic and competitiv­e fire,” says Kevin Thorburn, head coach of the Etobicoke Swim Club, who started coaching MacLean when she was 14.

“She pushes herself extremely hard in every workout.”

Her drive to do “everything” she can to become a better swimmer extends well beyond the pool.

Everything in her life from sleep to what she eats — she’s famous among family and friends for refusing to eat her own birthday cake — is designed to find extra seconds in races.

Fun for her, besides training, which for an elite swimmer has to be at least somewhat fun, is hanging out with family and friends, ideally watching a Leafs game.

“I love my Maple Leafs,” she says, her eyes darting to the game playing on the TV.

“But I’m not so happy with them right now,” she continues as they go down a goal in the first 30 seconds.

Watching a game while home in Toronto on a university holiday is a rare treat for MacLean. In Georgia, she has to call it “ice hockey” so people know what she’s talking about, and she follows the season through the Leafs app on her phone and her mom’s retelling of highlights because the games are rarely televised.

But Blue Jays and Raptors games sometimes are and that’s a pretty good fallback.

“I’m an all-round Toronto fan.”

 ??  ?? The 2015 Pan Am Games are Toronto swimmer Brittany MacLean’s b
The 2015 Pan Am Games are Toronto swimmer Brittany MacLean’s b
 ?? COLIN MCCONNELL/TORONTO STAR ?? best chance to stand on the top step of the podium.
COLIN MCCONNELL/TORONTO STAR best chance to stand on the top step of the podium.

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