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Kingston swimmer headed to Tokyo Paralympic Games

Kingston Y Penguins swimmer Abi Tripp will be Tokyo-bound in the fall for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games in August and September of 2021. Photo by Ian McNicol.

Kingston Y Penguins swimmer Abi Tripp will be heading to the Paralympic Games in Tokyo this fall as one of about 19 members of Team Canada’s swim team.

“Representing Canada is something that not everybody gets the chance to do — it’s incredible and so special. We’re all excited to have that certainty that we’ve made the team and looking to just focus on training from here on out,” Tripp said.

This marks the second time that Tripp, 20, will participate in the Paralympic Games, debuting first at the 2016 Rio Paralympics.

Tripp remarked that it used to take a “grueling week of competition” to qualify, but with the pandemic, the rules had changed.

Coach Vicki Keith — herself, a a renown Canadian swimmer — explained that “the athletes used to compete for rankings to see where they fit in the world and that’s how they’re selected to the team. Because of COVID, they postponed and (eventually) cancelled the trials.”

Team Canada members were chosen this year based on “the last international competition, which was World Championships,” according to Keith. Four spots still remain, with athletes to compete in their home pools or pools in their vicinity and submitting videos of their races.

Keith said that Tripp was “one of the athletes that had performed really well at World Championships, but you never take anything for granted. Nothing is assured until the actual moment.”

The lockdowns affected Tripp’s training, as well. When the YMCA pool in Kingston where she swims and trains closed, Tripp pivoted by swimming in the lake, even though the temperature in the water was sometimes just 10 degrees.

“Your body gets used to it,” she said. “I just loved doing open water training.”

Her coach credits Tripp for being resilient. “Coaches often speak to their athletes about their ability to be resilient and how important resiliency is in all aspects of life. (With) COVID, you have to look on the positive side of things, find solutions to challenges, and find new ways to do things,” Keith said.

Long-time coach Vicki Keith, left, and Abi Tripp are currently training at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. Photo by Jessica Tinney.

Tripp considered it a “blessing” to be out of the pool for almost six months. Typically, she only has two weeks off during the year.

“It was just really nice to have a break away from the pool, which gave me so much more motivation. I felt fresh again — like [a] kid that just started swimming,” she explained.

She also appreciated having extra time to get a good start on school: she will be studying Psychology at Laval University in the fall. She also pursued other hobbies ,such as cooking, photography and writing.

“That was a new-found love for me. I didn’t like writing before, but it’s been something that I’ve continued to do: it’s a great outlet,” Tripp said.

Tripp was born with cerebral palsy and suffers from dystonia—involuntary muscle contractions. “It’s very inconsistent, so I’ve just learned a lot from it and learn how to always be prepared. It keeps me on my toes,” she said.

Keith said Tripp doesn’t need any motivation. “My job is to inspire. Abi is a very personally motivated person,” she said.

Keith and Tripp are currently training at the Pan Am Sports Centre in Toronto. As the competition nears, Tripp admits that “Tokyo has always been in my mind, but now it just feels a little bit more real.”

Asked why Tripp pursued swimming over other sports, she had this to say:

“Honestly, it’s one of the best sports for being so welcoming to any type of physical disability. I didn’t enjoy being in the water [at first] and I found it really scary, but [I] eventually got over that somehow.”

Once Tripp found out that she could be “powerful,” that she could compete with her older brother and could “really do something with it,” she was hooked on swimming.

Keith remembers the first day Tripp got in the water.

“I remember being impressed by her right from the very beginning. Abi (was) sitting on the edge of the pool at seven years old and she was crying. She felt it important to express to me that she wasn’t crying because she was afraid — she was crying because she couldn’t make herself do what she wanted to do because she was afraid,” Keith shared.

“For me, that was very enlightening and eye opening: the intensity in which she felt things. I think that when you meet somebody like that, you know that they’re on a track to greatness.”

The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games will be held from August 24 until September 5, 2021.

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