When Sarah Mehain started with the Vernon Kokanee Swim Club at age 11, coach Bruce Melton told her the Paralympics was a possibility.
“I didn’t believe him then, but I got into it,” said Mehain, who will compete with Team Canada at the Summer Games, Aug. 29-Sept. 9, in London.
Mehain, who suffers from hemiplegia, a condition that affects her coordination as one side of her body is stronger than the other, will compete in six events in the S7 division. The ultra-humble 17-year-old Seaton student has set a goal to reach the final in each race.
“This time is mostly for the experience; next time I’ll go for medals,” said Mehain. “I just want to improve my times, swim really well and have a great experience.”
Given Mehain’s world rankings, she is capable of achieving her goals, and then some. She is fifth in 50-metre butterfly, sixth in both 100 breaststroke and 200 IM, seventh in 50 freestyle, ninth in 100 backstroke and 13th 100 free. She holds Canadian long- and short-course records for the 100 breast.
Having worked with Mehain for the last four years, Kokanee head coach Renate Terpstra has witnessed a huge transformation in her student’s mind-set.
“When she was younger she had a hard time to really commit to it, to all the hours of training,” said Terpstra. “Now she’s really focussed and works really well and challenges herself.
“I expect a lot from her. I think she will do really well. I’m not sure if she will medal, but of course, it’s her first Paralympics.”
Having competed in world championships and Pan American Games, Mehain is used to swimming against world-calibre competition. However, she knows the energy level is going be cranked way up in London. There will be 4,200 athletes from 160 countries competing at the Paralympics, with about 600 representatives from 66 countries in the swimming events alone.
“I know most of them (swim competitors) and I’m comfortable racing against them, but it’ll be so different at Paralympics because the atmosphere is so much different. It’ll be so much more intense probably.”
Mehain’s schedule leading up to the Games has been just as hectic as the bustling city of London itself. After provincial championships in Richmond (July 5-8), she headed to Winnipeg for the Speedo Can/Am Para-swimming Championships (July 20-22), and followed that with a two-week, high-altitude (7,000 feet above sea level) national team training camp in Flagstaff, Ariz. at the end of July.
After a five-day reprieve back in Vernon, she is now in northern Italy for another two-week camp. From there, the Canadian team heads straight to England.
“It’s almost scary because it’s almost (here),” said Mehain, who, when she is away from the pool, enjoys horseback riding, playing the violin and French horn, and Highland dancing.
“I’ve been thinking about making the team since I went to Beijing Olympic trials four years ago.
“Especially in the last year, I’ve been thinking about it at practice. I’ve been dreaming about it and doing everything I can to swim fast in Montreal (Paralympic trials in March) and make the team.”
Mehain has had a blast training with the other 23 members (nine men and 15 women) and coaches with the Canadian Paralympic program.
“Most of the girls are younger, and it’s really cool to hang out with them because they’re all going through the same stuff and they know what it’s like,” she said.
“You get a different coach almost every time you go to a training camp. I really enjoy working with different coaches because they all have something different to put in.”
And while Mehain hopes to get in a little sightseeing and shopping along London’s High Street boutiques, she is equally excited to compete in the Aquatics Centre, dubbed the Stingray. Designed by architect Zaha Hadid, it forms part of the gateway to the Olympic Park.
“I think just seeing the Olympic pool we’ll be competing in will be pretty awesome,” she said. “I’ve seen pictures and it looks like the most amazing facility.”
Mehain thanked her family, coaches and everyone else at the Kokanee club for supporting her along the way.