Mackenzie Hamill off to a fast start in his collegiate career

Hamill won the national championship in the 1,650 freestyle by less than one second.

Think back to your freshman year. Were you intimidated? Did it take you any time to adjust to your new surroundings?

It didn’t trouble Mackenzie Hamill at all. The first year business student from Oakville, Ontario won the 1,650 yard freestyle at the NCAA Division II Championships, becoming the first SFU athlete to win an NCAA championship in men’s swimming.

“It was certainly like a rush of joy, excitement — a bunch of different emotions,” said Hamill on winning the national championship. “But I think my favourite part of the whole thing was seeing all of my teammates and the smile on their faces and them cheering and how happy they were for me.

One of the other best parts was whoever wins the event, that coach gets to hand out the [awards]. So I think seeing the smile on my coach’s face and knowing that I just won and that this is my first year and hopefully I can continue to do that for the next three years, it was a huge accomplishment. It really hit home when I was standing there on the podium.”

Hamill started swimming around the fifth grade, continuing throughout high school before deciding to come here to SFU and start his collegiate career.

“I really wanted to venture outside of Ontario. [. . .] So I emailed Liam Donnelly, started talking to him, and then realized that the main distance coach here was Cory Beatt, and he’s a really successful coach. He’s coached Brittany Reimer, who’s one of the fastest females ever in Canadian swimming. I came here for a recruiting trip last year in October and really liked it, [and I] really liked the coaching staff.”

Hamill credits his teammates for helping him adjust quickly to the team and help motivate him.

“It’s a really open atmosphere,” he explained. “Coming in this year, knowing that we had one guy qualifying for [National Championships] last year, now we have six, it’s been a huge motivation for everyone. Everyone really wanted to make this year, and everyone saw it was possible.

“Every teammate really pushed each other to be the best we could possibly be this year,” said Hamill.

After a few strong performances, including the Clan Cup hosted here at SFU, Hamill qualified for the National Championships. There he raced in the 500-yard freestyle against fellow teammate Adrian Vanderhelm.

“My favourite part of the whole thing was seeing all of my teammates and the smile on their faces.”

“It’s definitely a little more competition, a little stiffer. But we’re both teammates. So if he wins or I win, it doesn’t really matter. Well — it matters to us, but we’re happy for the other one. There’s no rivalry really between us.”

The final event was the 1,650-yard freestyle.

“The one guy who won it last year didn’t have an insanely fast swim in the morning,” said Hamill. “So when I was looking over sort of the heat before the actual race, I saw that if I had a really good race, it would be possible to win. So I really set my focus and realized that it might be possible to win right before the race.”

From there, the strategy aspect took over.

“I knew the guy beside me was going to be with me the whole time. And then on the other side of the pool, I saw one guy way ahead. So throughout the race I was aiming for first, but when the other guy started to take off, I thought I’d just start racing the guy beside me and sort of stay in my race and not let that interfere. And when I saw things sort of die out right before the end I started making my push and thought that — depending on what the time is — I actually might be able to win it.”

The win and his success throughout the year means that Hamill has qualified for the Olympic trials in Toronto, where he will be competing against swimmers such as Olympian Ryan Cochrane. There, if he does well enough, he could be off to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“There’s going to be a ton of fast people there that I’ll be racing against,” said Hamill on Olympic trials. “The 1,500 [what it’s called in meters] has been Canada’s best event ever since Cochrane made it back in 2008. It’s not really realistic to make now, but it’s definitely something that I would like to set my sight on for the future.”

So what are his future goals for here at SFU?

“I’d like to be able to continue to keep the national championship for four years. That would be pretty cool,” said Hamill. “To go undefeated at that meet and at that event [would be great]. But really, my main goal is to set the record, which is far off for next year, but I feel like by my senior year I can definitely get it.”