Carlie Cholette has joined the Gee-Gees varsity swimming team. The team gains new members each season and for 2018 a large crop of high level swimmers coming into their first year of university this fall have been recruited by the team. But Carlie Cholette is not your typical recruit.
Cholette came to uOttawa after completing a paralegal diploma and is now heading into her fourth year of studies, majoring in political science and minoring in law. The 23-year-old is also a four-time national champion with the Gee-Gees synchro competitive club and has been named the Gee-Gees Club Athlete of the Year for the past two seasons. In November, she was trying out for Synchro Canada's Olympic team program for the third time in her athletic career.
"I took swimming lessons as a kid and also ballet and jazz classes," explains Cholette while sitting at a table in University Square mid-summer. "I started doing synchro because a friend suggested it and I loved it instantly."
"I moved to Montreal by myself when I was 13 years old to train there with a club," she continues. After coming back home to Orleans at age 19, Cholette took a break from synrcho before joining the Gee-Gees club team in 2016, eventually gearing up for another national team tryout. "Synchro is very subjective and unfortunately they felt I wasn't the right fit for the team."
When she was not selected to the team, it was time for a new challenge.
"I started going to lane swims, doing laps on my own for extra training. I saw Dave there coaching the team and I decided to email him. I said, I am nowhere near being a speed swimmer but I'm interested." Cholette would shortly find herself training with the team. She also found a support network that she can thrive in.
"I probably get 40 to 50 emails each year from students who want to join the swim team but when they find out what the commitment level is they quickly disappear. Carlie was different," says Gee-Gees swimming head coach, Dave Heinbuch.
"When I met with her after her request to join the team for the upcoming season I was completely taken off guard about how serious she was about her goals and her commitment to making it work. In fact it was a breath of fresh air for me to see someone so excited about the opportunity to join our team," Heinbuch continues.
"Because Carlie comes from a high level synchro swimming background her fitness level was never in doubt and the concept of training hard is something that she relishes. She brought that attitude to the table right from the first practice."
"Water is second nature for me. I've always done laps as a warmup but never at this intensity. Getting in the water and pushing beyond your limits is the best feeling. If I had known that I loved swimming laps this much I think I would have started a bit earlier on," says Cholette, laughing.
Joining the team shortly after the U SPORTS Championships in February, Cholette has now raced in two meets and continues her training through the summer with the affiliated club, Go Kingfish. Her years of chin-ups means she relies on the strength in her arms and back while learning how to add powerful legs to her 50 metre freestyle racing.
While the physical side of the sport offers its own benefits, Cholette is relishing her new team environment as well.
"I really like these people! The captains are very supportive and I'm so thankful to have someone like Dave who went to the Olympics and who actually believes in me – sometimes more than I do," says Cholette before pausing.
"Dave's approach is it doesn't matter what height you are or what you look like – it's you against the clock all the time. That approach inspires me, from all the coaches on deck. I had health issues when I did synchro… It's mentally so difficult. At the competitive level it feels like it's all about physique and how you look, and I was constantly trying to be thin. I was under 100 pounds at age 18."
"Here (with the swim team) I am getting all the support in the world and I'm in such a good place right now. I feel the healthiest I've been in my entire career. And even the happiest I've been – other than waking up at 4 a.m. for practice," she laughs. "But once you dive in, it's worth it."
"She genuinely seems to love it, and it's great for the coaches and swimmers to have her on the team," says Heinbuch, who is entering his sixth season as head coach at uOttawa. "I can definitely see her being part of our team at the RSEQ championships."
Cholette has her eye on the future as well. 2018-19 will mark her first year of eligibility, leaving four more on the table after she completes her undergraduate degree. After writing the bar exam for paralegals this summer, Cholette plans to apply for law school as well as a master's degree in political science. As her education continues, so too will her time with the swim team.
"My goal would be to make the U SPORTS nationals – maybe not this year but in the following years."
The busy student-athlete also remains active as a synchro judge at the provincial level and as a coach, sharing her passion for that sport with international hopefuls in the 13-15 age category. One of her long-time athletes recently won the Pan Am Games for that age level. "There are a lot of kids that want to compete at the international level, so I want to share my passion with them. I think I'm always going to keep coaching because I love it."
"As an athlete though, I will choose swimming instead of synchro right now. It's never too late to make the switch and I'm really happy with the outcome because of the support I'm getting."
* The swim team season officially gets underway on October 12 as the Gee-Gees join the RSEQ Cup circuit.