By Jim Morris
VANCOUVER – It may have ended in triumph but Brent Hayden’s swimming career nearly sank before it got started.
The Olympic 100-metre freestyle bronze medallist and former world champion actually failed his first swimming lessons. The only reason Hayden’s parents decided to sign him up for the Mission Marlin Swim Club in their hometown of Mission, B.C.
“They decided to put me on the team and give it a go,” Hayden said in a recent interview.
The water became a second home for Hayden. Through swimming he travelled the world, met his future wife Nadina, and eventually climbed on the podium at the London Olympic Games.
Hayden’s success at Olympics, world championships and Commonwealth Games has resulted in him being named to the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame. The Canadian record holder in the 200-, 100- and 50-metre freestyle will be inducted Sept. 19 at the Hall’s 45th annual Banquet of Champions at the Vancouver Convention Centre.
Hayden will share a spot in the Hall of Fame with other great B.C. athletes like sprinter Harry Jerome, baseball player Larry Walker, NHL star Joe Sakic and Olympic gold medallist skier Kerrin Lee-Gartner.
“It’s a huge honour because of the amazing athletes and sports personalities that are already in there,” said the 29-year-old who was born in Maple Ridge and grew up in Mission, about 60 kilometres outside of Vancouver. “I’m just honoured to be recognized with so many great people.”
Hayden’s moment of celebrating an Olympic medal in front of a world television audience came after long hours of anonymous toil. There were early morning workouts and time spent alone sweating in the gym.
Being named to the B.C. Hall of Fame is recognition of that work.
“It just shows we are being noticed,” said Hayden. “We might not be in the news as often as we like, or be noticed on the street, but people are out there watching our accomplishments and taking note.
“I was doing it for the thrill of competition. I loved to race. It was fun for me. When I stood up in the classroom in Grade 3 and said I wanted to swim in the Olympics it wasn’t because I wanted to be famous or anything. I just wanted to swim against the best in the world and test my personal limit.”
When Hayden entered the water in the 100-metre final in London he was the oldest man in the field by five years. He went to the Games thinking it would be his final Olympics but unsure if he would retire.
If Hayden didn’t win a medal he was toying with the idea of swimming until the next world championships to “end my career on a high note.”
The final decision to retire came during a medal ceremony at Canada House. He listened to the national anthem play for himself and teammate Ryan Cochrane, who won a silver medal in the 1,500-metre free, and watched a video montage of his race.
“I just got really emotional and that was the moment I was waiting for,” Hayden said. “In the middle of my speech I realized this was the right moment and I just announced it, just like that.”
Six months after the Olympics he has had no second thoughts.
“I’m very happy with my decision,” Hayden said. “I accomplished everything I had ever set out to do. I had won a gold medal at every single international competition there is except the Olympics.
“I still was able to get on the podium at the Olympics. That bronze medal really did feel like gold to me. I just don’t think there was anything else for me to chase after that.”
Soon after the Olympics Hayden married Nadina in a ceremony about 45 minutes outside of Beirut. Since then he has remained busy, coaching at several small swim clinics and making public speaking appearances. Bullied as a child in school, Hayden delivers a strong anti-bullying message.
“I have a real positive message,” he said. “I was once a kid sitting in an assembly. Somewhere along the way I got inspired. I’m hoping if I can get out there and pass my message on to as many kids as possible I will inspire a kid.”
Hayden recently returned from a six-day trip to the Northwest Territories where he conducted swim clinics in Hay River and Yellowknife.
“It was amazing up there,” he said. “There was something really Canadian about it.”
Hayden has also pursued his love of photography. Some of his work is shown on his website www.brenthayden.com. He shot some underwater footage for his wife’s music video which will be released soon.
“I was never very good at creating things with my hands,” he said. “I couldn’t draw, I couldn’t sculpt, but I always had an eye for photography. I saw things in a certain way.”
A long-term goal for Hayden and his wife is to open a private swim school. The school would help both parents and children bridge the gap between swimming lessons and joining a competitive swim club.
In some ways failing his first swim lesson might have been the best thing that happened to Hayden’s career. It taught him obstacles are only as large as you allow them to be.
“I never gave up,” Hayden said. “I might not have fallen in love with swimming at the very beginning but I definitely fell in love with it at some point. Suddenly I got inspired.
“I had this dream. I just went for it. I faced a lot of obstacles along the way. I didn’t get discouraged. I just figured out ways to get around them. I never took my eye off that goal.”