How to Become a Successful Athlete
Ema: When did your interest in swimming begin, and why?
Damian: My interest began when I joined the team at school and won a medal at a city-wide competition. That’s when I thought: “Well, this must be a sport that I’m good at if I won a medal and didn’t train as much as regular competitors.” Before starting to swim I wasn’t very good at tennis, and I wanted to be the best at something.
Ema: Do you remember when and where you learnt to swim?
Damian: When I was a baby my mom and dad took me to swimming classes for young children. My mom told me that I was a very good swimmer for my age, that I wasn’t afraid, and that I loved water… That’s how I started swimming.
Ema: What is your favourite swimming stroke?
Damian: My favourites are butterfly and back stroke. I like them both equally.
Ema: Who is your role model in the world of sports?
Damian: Michael Phelps is my favourite swimmer because he won 8 gold medals at the 2008 Olympics, that’s what motivates me.
Ema: How many hours a week do you spend at the pool? What does your typical day look like?
Damian: I think I spend about 19 or 20 hours at the pool but there is also training outside the water. So, in fact, I probably swim for 18 hours, but we also run, do push-ups, and lots of other exercises. My day begins by waking up at 4:45 am, going to training, after training my mom picks me up or I take the subway, then I eat at home, and go to school. After school I rest for a bit, and then go to more training. After training I go home, eat, do my homework, sleep… and eat some more.
Ema: How do you make school and swimming work together?
Damian: So far, I’ve been successful. When I get home after my second training, I try to finish my homework as quickly as possible and not drag it out, or else I’d be doing homework until midnight. So far it hasn’t been difficult, but I know it will be harder in high school. It will definitely be harder, but I think I’ll be able to balance everything.
Ema: Do you have time to hang out with friends?
Damian: Occasionally over the weekends, but not too much time. Only when I don’t have competitions to attend, but when it’s a school day I have to do my homework or swim and don’t have time for friends.
Ema: Have you even wanted to quit?
Damian: I thought about that last season, since I wasn’t at my best. That was my worst season since almost everyone else was bigger than me, they had already hit puberty. But now, I’ve grown as well. I think I’ve gotten stronger, and I think I’ll be better this season.
Ema: What helps you stay motivated?
Damian: The thought of the medal keeps me motivated. I love to win medals, as well as setting record times so I can beat my own record.
Ema: How do you prepare for competitions?
Damian: I listen to music, play some video games, talk to my friends.
Ema: Are you ever nervous?
Damian: I was very nervous when I was younger, but less now. Maybe only for bigger competitions.
Ema: How many medals have you won already and what was your greatest achievement?
Damian: My greatest achievement was first place in Canada for the 100 meter back stroke. I’m not sure how many medals I have, maybe fifty, I haven’t counted.
Ema: What goes through your mind in the middle of the competition? Do you say anything to yourself while you are swimming?
Damian: I don’t think about anything while I’m swimming because I’m “in the zone.” When there’s just 50 metres left, that’s when I know I have to be quick, so I tell myself: “Come on, come on….” I clench my jaw and give it my all. Even if everything hurts, I have to continue, I have to give every last ounce of strength in my body. Everything…
Ema: What do you do when you’ve had a bad day? How do you deal with disappointment?
Damian: I only think good thoughts. I tell myself: “That was a bad day, but tomorrow is a new and better one.”
Ema: You train on the same team as Penny Oleksiak. Do you know her?
Damian: I wouldn’t say that we know each other. Sometimes she’s in the pool with me, sometimes she swims on team Canada, sometimes Ontario, and sometimes she’s on my team. But she is older, and much bigger, incomparably bigger than me.
Ema: How did you feel when you were watching her compete at the Olympics?
Damian: I was overjoyed. I didn’t know she was that good, because, one or two years ago, she wasn’t even the best in Ontario. But now she’s number one, setting an Olympic record.
Ema: Can you imagine yourself on the Olympic podium?
Damian: Yes, I certainly can. Because if I continue to train ,and don’t slack off at school, I think I can get there.
Ema: What advice do you have for kids who are starting to get involved in sports?
Damian: Try to do everything well. When your trainer tells you to do something, listen to them, and always give it your all. If your trainer tells you that you need to try harder, then try harder.
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