Nancy Sweetnam, a nine-year veteran of Canada's National Swim Team, has announced her retirement. The smiling 24-year-old University of Guelph student is swimming in her last Nationals here in Edmonton. The highlight of her career was the gold medal in the 200 IM at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland. A finalist at the Barcelona Olympics, a silver and bronze at the Victoria Commonwealth Games, and 21 National Championship titles are among her many accomplishments. While these were important and in retrospect surprising to Nancy, she spoke almost entirely of her feelings of retirement, and her future plans.
"It has been a hard decision to make, but the more I thought about it, the more sure I became. Many people told me to continue until next year and then have a look at the '98 Commonwealths. But I am quite sure of my decision. I've seen myself as Nancy the swimmer for so long, my greatest fear is what to do when that connection is over. I do have some exciting plans for myself, plus I look back on swimming as the absolute best thing that could ever have happened to me. Now, I'm comfortable with myself, I know who I am, and I'm ready for new challenges."
"I started swimming for fun and I had the privilege of really enjoying my age group career. Then in high school, I had a strong personal identity with swimming, which I felt was a great thing for me. Somewhere in the middle of my career, I lost the fun, just-do-it aspect and it cost me. After some changes, I've come back and enjoyed myself the past two years. It's a feeling of training hard and then just letting my races happen without thinking. I had it when I started and I feel I've come full circle now."
Nancy grew up in Lindsay, Ontario, coached by her mother Marian. After a rapid rise through the age group ranks, she broke on the scene at the 1988 Olympic Trials in Montreal. An agonizing pair of hundredths of a second left the naive 14 year old off the Olympic team. Finishing second in the 200 IM at that meet gave her a determination and a focus she never lost. A unique and interesting aspect of her career after the trials was a plan to visit various programs around Canada to experience different coaching while getting to know other high performers. Nancy did not doubt Marian's program. Instead, she was curious and felt she could learn a lot from other programs. "It gave us a broad perspective, we could keep the ideas we liked and ignore the ones we didn't like."
After being heavily recruited by every program in North America, Nancy choose to attend Laurentian University under Jeno Tihanyi, who had coached Alex Bauman to Olympic success. The first year was a once-a-day training transition from a low-volume high-intensity program she had in Lindsay, to a much higher volume program under "Doc." Nancy still holds the Canadian records she set at the CIAU Championships that year for the short course 200 Breaststroke and the 200 IM. After her excellent performances at the 1994 Commonwealth Games, Nancy decided it was time for another change. She spent a year in Lindsay and then moved down to Florida to get ready for the 1996 Olympic Trials. "I went to train with Lois Daigneault and it was great She got me back to the frame of mind I wanted."
A second place in the 400 IM at the trials qualified Nancy for her second Olympics. An 11th place finish in Atlanta was a solid but perhaps unsatisfying swim after her finals performance fours years earlier in Barcelona. For Nancy it was a climb back to where she was in the early 90s. "When I look back on the list of my performances I am a bit surprised at what I had actually accomplished. It makes me feel good." Nancy swam last year at Guelph and concentrated on studies and CIAU swimming. Next year she plans to continue her studies at Guelph and try to stay in shape. "I'll probably cut back to 4 or 5 practices a week just to stay in touch. I'm interested in triathalons and rowing, plus just about any sport I'm invited to participate in. It may be a bit weird having so much more time in my day."
All Canadians who have watched Nancy compete over the years will surely want to wish her all the best in her new career. Good luck Nancy, we won't forget.