Mariya Chekanovych: National Champ

WEB-Mariya Chekanovych-Mark Burnham

Mariya Chekanovych not only won SFU’s first NCAA championship, she won a second

By Clay J. Gray
Photos by Mark Burnham

Meet SFU’s first NCAA Division II national champion, Mariya Chekanovych. This freshman phenom recently swam her way into the history books by winning the 100and 200-meter breaststroke to become the first NCAA champion attending a school outside of Canada. As a first-year, Mariya has an opportunity to repeat every year she is in school, a dream she doesn’t shy away from, saying, “I feel excited after winning a title, now it doesn’t seem so unrealistic to have the goal of winning a title all four years.”

Mariya arrived in Birmingham on Monday evening; she was ranked first in her events, predicted to win. With that kind of an expectation, Mariya was obviously under pressure to perform to which she said, “Coming into the race I knew I didn’t want to let people down, I knew this was my chance to represent SFU and Canada and I knew it would be difficult because I wasn’t at 100 per cent.”

Fortunately, the team had arrived early enough that the athletes were afforded a day to explore the city before began the competition on Wednesday. The clan swimmers used this day to check out a motorcycle exhibit and later in the evening attend the opening ceremonies for the tournament, which included dinner and fireworks synced with music.

Of course, once the pomp and ceremony was completed, it was time to get down to the nitty-gritty and see who would be standing on top of the podium when the wake settled. Throughout the course of the tournament, Mariya swam in 12 different races, all with an injured knee.
As the tournament wore on and the pain in Mariya knee got worse, the reality of a national championship became evident.

When Mariya stepped onto the block for the 100-yard finals, she focused her mind, determined to give this race everything she had. Normally, Mariya employs a come-frombehind racing tactic, but she hit the water fast, and by the time she was turning at the other end of the pool, she was already in the lead.

Even though her knee is still sore almost a week later, Mariya said, “My adrenaline was pumping and I knew I was going to win when there were only a few meters left so I ignored the pain and I poured it on.” When Mariya hit the wall not only had she won as predicted but she had also broken the NCAA record in the 100yard breaststroke.

The next day Mariya competed in her second finals of the tournament in the 200-yard breaststroke. Once again, the Ukrainian-Canadian torpedo hit the wall first and captured her second NCAA title.

Of course, Mariya’s stor y started well before she dove into the pool two weeks ago in Birmingham, Alabama. Mariya’s family immigrated directly to Burnaby from Ukraine when she was eight years old.

She recalls being very shy and somewhat isolated when she first moved to Canada, her inability to speak English at the time made it impossible to communicate with most children her age. “I remember sitting in class, hiding behind a book pretending to read so no one would talk to me because I didn’t know how to speak English,” she said.

By the time Mariya was nine years old she had begun to swim competitively. While she developed as a swimmer she was also developing her abilities in English, and by the time she reached her current age of 18 she had become fluent in both.

Since it is only her second semester in university her choice of favourite courses is limited to just the eight she has had so far. However, her clear standout pick was Health Science 140 “Contemporary & Alternative Medicine” saying, “It was interesting because I got to see a different side of medicine, I never expected placebos to be so powerful.”

Yet Chekanovych understands that she has ample time left at school before she has to determine which educational path she will follow. However, she looks to her education as her ultimate purpose for attending university. “I don’t plan on swimming being my career, its very risky, at any time an injury could cut swimming out of my life. I don’t have a particular idea in mind but I know an education is the best route for me.”

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