"I've been smiling so much my cheeks hurt."
Erin Gamel, a happy 17-year-old swimmer from Kamloops, won her first national championship in the 100 backstroke and a trip to Japan as a member of the Canadian Pan Pacific team. She has been rising quickly this year under her coach Ken McKinnon. Erin moved into the top 30 in the world with this swim, something that took her a bit by surprise. "One of my goals this year was to win a national championship. I knew I had the drive and the excitement to get there. After I placed well at winter nationals I thought I should just go for it. I really wanted this, but the time is surprising." Erin took 2.5 seconds off her previous best time to win over a fast-closing Kelly Stefanyshyn from Winnipeg. When asked what her goal was for Pan Pacs, Erin replied "I want to swim another best time and swim well for Canada. It's a bit too soon after this race for me to think about right now, but I know what I want."
The road to the podium has been a very steady one for Erin, but not without obstacles. Erin lives in Barriere, almost a one-hour drive from the pool in Kamloops. She does morning workouts at the training pool her parents built for the family, then after school she travels to Kamloops, arriving late for practice every afternoon. "I found it extremely hard to swim on my own in the mornings, but it was part of the program and I wanted to reach my goal so bad. But I didn't see any of this as a problem; if anything it made me more positive. I had great support from my parents and my sister. I also have a very good relationship with my coach. He's really the best. Ken knows me really well, he also knows my stroke really well." Taking responsibility for some of her training and performance seems to have given Erin some strengths not available to swimmers who have everything.
The preparation for nationals had to be adjusted a month out. "I had a bit of problem with my shoulder over the past month and it had me worried for awhile. We reduced the work to deal with it, but I was worried." Ken McKinnon said, "Adjusting to the injury resulted in the lowest volume of work she has ever done coming into a meet." Asked if there were any indications during the year pointing to this performance, Ken said, "Erin was very consistent in her racing since the Winter Nationals. She went under 1.05, six times this year." As a result, expectations of a good performance were high.
Erin was clear on her race plan. "Our plan was to build the whole race to the 75, then go at 100% to the finish. I saw the other girls and I really wanted to win. I got under 17 seconds on the last 25, which was one of our goals for the race." She has a long smooth stroke reminiscent of Reema Abdo (bronze medallist 4x100 MR, 1984 Los Angeles). Erin is one of the new young backstrokers emerging here at the Canadian Nationals, hopefully as a changing of the guard. On to Japan!