Blind Inuk heads to world swimming meet
“I still can’t get over the fact I made it.”
A blind Inuk swimmer will head to the world swimming championships in Durban, South Africa this October.
Jenna Kayakjuak, 19, returned earlier this month from the Swimmers With A Disability trials in San Antonio, Texas, with two gold medals.
“I still can’t get over the fact I made it,” she said this Monday.
It’s been a busy past year for Kayakjuak, who lives in Brantford, Ontario, and was born blind.
Last August she returned from the Canada Summer Games in Regina with two golds and a bronze.
Since then, Kayakjuak, who her mother says “swims like a fish,” has spent plenty of time in the pool, and picked up many more medals.
This April she competed at the Can-Am Disability Swimming Championships in London, Ontario, where she took two silvers, for 50-metre and 100-metre freestyle races, and a bronze medal for her preferred race, the 100-metre butterfly.
She also visited Antwerp, Belgium in May this year to compete in the Electrabel Paralympics, where she came in second in the 100-metre butterfly and third place in three other races: the 100-metre breaststroke, 100-metre freestyle and 50-metre freestyle.
So by the time she arrived in Texas in August, she was feeling a little less nervous about competing than she was a year ago.
She took gold in the 100-metre freestyle and gold in the 50-metre freestyle.
Despite beating her personal best for the 100-metre butterfly by seven seconds, she was beat by another swimmer – by a fraction of a second.
“It made me quite mad,” she said.
Still, she performed well enough in the butterfly to earn her a spot on the national team and move forward to the world champs, so she isn’t complaining.
As well, this year Kayakjuak was also nominated as the female athlete with a disability of the year by Sports Ontario.
Now, Calgary is Kayakjuak’s next stop, where she was bound this Wednesday to begin training for the upcoming world championships.
Swimming without sight presents some challenges. When Kayakjuak dives into the pool, two assistants stand at either end of the lane, each holding a foam-padded stick, like a giant Q-tip, to tap her on the head as she approaches the wall.
That signal lets her know when to stretch out, touch the wall and spin around in a kick-flip.
In life outside the pool, she’s recently moved out of her mother’s house, and is now living in her own apartment, with two cats. “I love it,” she said.
“I’ve always been really independent.”
Kayakjuaq has one year left of high school, which she plans to finish at Brantford Collegiate Institute so she can take history and law. She plans to attend university, and hopes to eventually enter law school.
During her trip to Texas she enjoyed the spicy food but melted in the warm weather.
“I don’t like the heat. I’m not much of a summer person.”
That gave her one more reason to look forward to time in the pool.