Olympic Medalist Brent Hayden Inspires Local Swimmers By Chris Davis & Kim Jorgenson
Chris Davis with Kim Jorgenson - World Champion and Olympic Bronze medalist for Canada Brent Hayden and his wife Nadina Zarifeh were at the Pincher Creek Pool and in a classroom setting March 24-26 to teach and inspire local youth swimmers. 23 kids participated in their half-day lessons on the Friday, and 17 attended their weekend-long boot camp. "I'm just giving back everything I learned from my years being an international swimmer representing Canada to help the new generation," said Hayden after Saturday's pool session. "I'm blessed to be in this position."
Hayden and Zarifeh bring a varied background to their educational efforts.
Hayden was born in Mission, British Columbia, He and Zarifeh now reside in Vancouver. According to his bio, Hayden is the Canadian record-holder in the 200-metre, 100-metre and 50-metre freestyle in both the short-course and long-course, and has also held the world record in the 4×100-metre medley relay, and the 4×200-metre freestyle relay. He was co-World Champion (with Filippo Magnini of Italy) in the 200 metre freestyle in 2007, to become the first Canadian in 21 years to win a gold medal at the World Aquatics Championships, He competed for 22 years before winning the bronze medal in the 100-metre freestyle at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. He was the first Canadian to win an Olympic medal in that event.
"It doesn't really matter where anybody comes from. I think if they have the heart, the passion, and the desire to do that, they can make their dreams possible with whatever they have." - Brent Hayden
In total Hayden had a ten year international career with Team Canada, and participated in three Olympics as well as a multitude of other international competitive swimming events. The 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens was his first Olympics competition and almost proved to be his last. After a disappointing showing in the competition itself, he was mistaken for a protester the night before the final ceremonies, because he was "tall and wearing a dark shirt", and was beaten and arrested by riot police. The injuries he sustained hampered his career for a while, and he almost quit the sport. "I could get over that, but when I got home, people heard about it, and they got the facts wrong. They said it happened the night before the relay... and it was actually the alarm thing (discussed in more detail later in this article). It happened a week after the swimming was already done, the night before the closing ceremonies. "It made me want to quit swimming. Having a negative performance I could deal with," he said. "I probably shouldn't have been there. Wrong place, wrong time, to begin with. In that particular situation, I probably should have gone back to the Village, earlier on."
He decided to persevere, with the help of counseling and the people around him. "It took a lot of people around me to realize that was just a chapter in my life and in failure there is always a lesson to learn," he explained. "That extra added negativity on there, just solidified my foundation for a successful career moving forward, with the exception of Beijing (the site of the 2008 Summer Olympics), where I had another lesson to learn." That perseverance paid off, he went on to win a significant number of medals and awards at the national and international levels. He was 28 and considered to be getting to old for the sport in 2012 when he won his Olympic Bronze in London. He flew to Lebanon after the 2012 ceremonies to marry Zarifeh. They met through swimming, having the same coach at the time.
Nadina Zarifeh was a National level breast stroke swimmer at 13 years old, until a back injury interfered with her competitive future. She was born in Beirut, Lebanon during the that country's brutal civil war. At the age of 7 she performed (as a singer) and won the Zecchino D'oro UNICEF festival in Italy, bringing her both fame and fortune, and a career in music. With her family she emigrated to Canada in 1990 to escape the violence of the the Lebanese civil war. She signed with Nettwerk Records and produced the Album 'In The Now', which is available on Amazon and iTunes (click here to purchase it). She wrote, composed and produced the songs with Merrit/Vancouver songwriter Christie Smith and Lebanon's Michel Fadel. She also swam for her home country of Lebanon at the United Arab Olympics. Here are a few of her English language videos. She also performs and records in Arabic. She has beencoaching and teaching swimming for over 15 years. "She has been teaching and doing curriculum development, and supervising at one of the top private swim schools in North America, Aquaventures." Brent told me. Aquaventures Swim Centreis located in Vancouver. Hayden and Zarifeh are planning a move to nearby New Westminister, BC. They have no children but do have a Pomenranian/Sheltie cross (or a 'Poshie') named Chewbacca.
Zarifeh and Hayden coach privately at the elite level and run Brent Hayden Swim Camps across Canada. The couple work together combining her teaching background and his international experience "Its a truly unique opportunity to get the maximum amount of improvement in the shortest amount of time," said Hayden. They also have an apparel line, AstraAthletics, that offers a 10% revenue return program for aspiring swimmers to earn commissions off of their sales, most often promoted through social media. The idea is that if the athletes earn money they can put it toward their career, and possible gain the notice of other sponsors. "We help that athlete get to that point," said Hayden.
Hayden said he enjoys the travel and the chance to meet so many people, "and have an impact on their life going forward." The rapport the two of them established with the kids in Pincher Creek was visible.
Hayden wasn't always a successful athlete. When he was young he failed swimming lessons, after which his parents enrolled him in competitive swimming, and he discovered he loved it. His childhood goal was to swim in the Olympics, and in grade 3 he stood up in class and told everyone he would one day make it to the Olympics. He didn't pursue it for a long time. "A lot of people think I must have been a good swimmer my entire life, but I failed swimming lessons," he said. "I just got into it because my parents signed me up. I found my passion for it that way. I didn't even start winning until I was about 15 years old, and Summer Club." He swam for 10 years in Summer Club, and it took him that amount of time to win his first provincial medal. He joined Winter Club the next year, and three years later he made it to the Canadian National Team.
In part swimming was his escape from being bullied in school. "I thrived in swimming because it was only me I had to beat." He attributes his success to dedication, a lesson he hopes to pass on to his young charges. "Whatever it is they want to do, they are going to have to commit themselves entirely to that, and pay attention to the details," he explained. At his first Olympics in Athens he was 20 years old, and he woke up in the middle of the night instead of in the morning after setting his alarm clock incorrectly. "That little error right there. I ended up panicking, and wasting a lot of emotional energy on how I had already screwed up before I even swam. By the time I got onto the blocks, I was totally flattened. That was a huge life lesson for me."
"In every failure there is an opportunity to learn things. Do not let a bad moment define you." - Brent Hayden
Brent's smoothie recipe
Hayden embraces a sentiment that is also often heard from the Pincher Creek Dolphin Swim Club, that swimming is most about self improvement and character building. Despite winning and placing well at many competitions, sportsmanship awards still matter the most to him. "A great athlete can make a great human being as well." - Brent Hayden Hayden also warns against overconfidence. He said he learned that from the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, which ended in disappointment for both him as an individual and the Canadian team. He decided to play it safe when he should have gone full out in the heat, came in 12th, and had to watch the final from the stands. It should be noted that these are people who are disappointed when they don't medal, even though they made it to the Olympics. "You should never expect the results. You have to make them happen."
"There is a difference being an extraordinary young athlete, and an ordinary young athlete. And it is professionalism. You have to be more professional, both in and out of the pool. I had to learn that, first hand." - Brent Hayden
Dolphin Ben Cooley with Hayden's Olympic Bronze medal "Even when the competition is over, you are still a role model to kids. It's not even just keeping out of trouble, it's just about being responsible, and setting a good example, even when people aren't watching." "It doesn't matter the size of the town you grow in. A lot of the Olympians I talk to grew up in small towns. It depends on the size of your heart. From there, anything is possible. - Brent Hayden
Brent Hayden, Nadina Zarifeh, Kullen Molaro, Pincher Creek Archery Club's Leah Filipuzzi During their visit Hayden and Zarifeh checked out the Pincher Creek Archery Club, and discovered they love the sport. They also stopped by the Burmis Tree and the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre on their way to a farewell dinner in the Crowsnest Pass.
At the Burmis Tree Kim Jorgenson said Hayden and Zarifeh have already been asked to come back to Pincher Creek next year due to the success of their program. "Brent and Nadina's personalities made this possible. They are down to earth and truly care about the kids."