It’s been a remarkable season so far for Jessie Gibson. Hailing from Abbotsford, Gibson has stepped onto SFU’s swimming team and put in impressive or record-setting performances in nearly every meet this season. Only a freshman, she’s forgone the usual adjustment period and become one of SFU’s key contributors.
“I had been talking to Coach Liam [Donnelly] in my grade 11 year,” said Gibson on her decision to attend SFU. “He contacted me and said ‘I kind of want to talk to you in your grade 12 year, if that’s OK with you.’ I was like ‘yeah sure, SFU, that’s a pretty great school to go to.’
“I came in for recruitment week in November for a recruitment trip, and I fell in love with the team and how everyone got together, and the coaches were great. I signed with them that month.”
Adjusting to the university workload can be a challenge for any student. Add to that that the team practices nine times a week on average — with the majority of them very early in the morning (luckily she says she is “100% a morning person”) — and you get a sense of what Gibson had to go through her first season. A kinesiology major, she’s had to learn how to balance her time very quickly.
“Going from high school to university, no matter how many people tell you, it’s going to be different,” said Gibson. “You’re not really prepared for it until you get here.
“For me, I definitely had a hard time, especially those first couple of months. Balancing my school with the practices, I was super exhausted all the time, but you kind of get into a rhythm of it. I’ve gotten a little bit better, but there are some older people on my team that are giving you tips like take online classes.”
A part not discussed often about attending SFU if you’re a student athlete is the SAT, or Scholastic Aptitude Test. As a member of the NCAA, all prospective players have to get a certain score on this test to be eligible.
“No matter what, you can always do better than what you’re doing right now.”
“You’re trying to answer questions, but they don’t give you enough time to finish them,” she explained. “You’re trying to get the questions done in this rushed time, but you’re like ‘Oh my god I’m going to fail’ [. . .] but after you get your marks you’re like, oh, I guess they mark them pretty fairly based on what you can do.”
Since she started competing for the Clan, Gibson has done nothing but win and break records. On January 28, she broke the SFU dual meet record in the 200 backstroke and the 200 individual medley. The week before, against the same team, she broke SFU dual meet records in the 200-yard freestyle and the 100-yard butterfly. And in the Husky Invitational on December 4, she set a school record in the 200-yard backstroke, along with three other records and was named MVP of the tournament.
That amount would be impressive throughout an entire four year career, but to do it before the end of your first season is truly remarkable.
“It feels good,” she commented on her record-breaking performances. “There’s so many fast people that have come before me to be able to sit up there on the record board, no matter how short it will be, [is great]. There’s always going to be people who come after and beat my records. But to sit on that board even for a little bit is kind of a great feeling.”
She credits Donnelly with helping her stay motivated throughout the season and pushing her to be better.
“[He] really just says what he means, in a good way,” she explained. “He says like ‘I think you can do this better’ and he tells you why. He explains everything he’s doing to you. It’s really straight forward, it’s not beating around the bush.
“Even if it’s something hard he has to tell you, he tells you it, and tells you to incorporate this into it so you can do it better. He’s always looking to the future [. . .] sure, I may have broken a record here or have a best time here, but that’s OK for now, and you can always do better.”
For the rest of her season, both her individual and team goals are clear. For herself, she wants to medal in her best event, the 200-metre distance and compete in the relay.
“We have to get our four girls qualified, but I think we’re basically there,” she explained. “I don’t really get to compete in relays that often. I want to do well [and] I want to work really well for my relay team.”
Her team goal is to win the elusive NCAA National Championship.
“We haven’t got a NCAA title before so I think, by the end of my career here, we really want to get close to it or get it. Liam [Donnelly] always says to us ‘your team goal is always to do better. You can’t stop where you are.’ You have to do better, and he’s enforced that the whole year. No matter what, you can always do better than what you’re doing right now.”
It’s hard to imagine a level at which Jessie Gibson can be better. But, having only just started her career at SFU, the sky’s the limit to how much she can achieve.
FUN FACT: Pulp or No Pulp in Orange Juice?
“I prefer no pulp. I don’t like the texture of the pulp.”