Battling through injuries strengthens MacLean

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BARCELONA – She might have made the biggest splash of her career at the London Olympics but the FINA World Championships remain very special to Brittany MacLean.

The Etobicoke, Ont., swimmer was 17 years old when she qualified for the 2011 worlds in Shanghai, China. She was a member of the 4×200-metre free relay which finished seventh.

“That summer was kind of incredible,” said MacLean.

“It was a big deal for me to make my first big international team. You kind of always remember where it all begins.”

MacLean went on to earn two gold medals at the world juniors, winning the 200 and 400-m freestyle. At last summer’s Olympics she proved her 2011 performance was no accident by qualifying for the final in the 400-m free and placing seventh.

“For me I kind of feel like worlds in 2011 was my first big showing, my first opportunity to step out on an international stage,” MacLean said. “My big goal for that summer was to prove I deserved to be on that relay.

“I was hoping to be on the national team for years to come. Looking back on it two years later it’s pretty exciting to be back again.”

This year she’s back again as part of Swimming Canada’s 34-member team (17 men, 17 women), which will compete in the pool from Sunday through Aug. 4 in Barcelona. MacLean warmed up by helping Canada win bronze medals in the 4×100-m and 4×200-m freestyle relays at the 2013 Summer Universiade in Kazan, Russia. She also finished fourth in 400-m and 200-m freestyle.

“It was a preparation meet,” she said. “I am happy with the results. That motivates me for the next year.

“There were some things I used as a gauging point to see where I am at. It makes me a little bit more excited to get one more race in.”

Due to injuries, MacLean is slated to swim only the 4×200-m freestyle relay at this year’s World Championships. She heads to Barcelona a little older and somewhat wiser.

“Experience is a factor now,” said the 19-year-old who swims for the Georgia Bulldogs. “I’m not as new as I was back then. I have been able to see and experience some things I didn’t get to when I was younger.

“Now I have seen the world stage. I am pretty much the same girl, the same swimmer. I’m older now and I guess I know a little more about what it does take to be at the top and what it takes to stay on the national team.”

MacLean packs a lot of toughness into a five-foot-eight, 165-pound frame. She has battled through several injuries which tested her patience and endurance.

A nagging right shoulder injury, which MacLean has dealt with since she was 13, flared up again after London. Just when MacLean felt that was under control, she pulled her left hamstring at the Canadian World Championships Trials in Victoria in April.

“I had just started to feel good about where my shoulder was at,” said MacLean. “I just started to get a few months of solid training in. I was in pain but it wasn’t overpowering pain.”

The hamstring injury, which happened while stretching moments before the 400-m freestyle, left MacLean shaking her head.

“Obviously I need to improve on my technique of stretching,” she said, managing a laugh. “I just bent over a little bit and felt this pop. I few seconds later I couldn’t really walk.

“I did swim the race but it wasn’t the race I would have liked.”

After weeks of rehab and physiotherapy MacLean healed enough to compete at the Universiade.

“Right now my body is holding up as good as I would like,” she said. “I’m pretty happy.

“I have a few years now to get ready and hopefully be at my best in 2016 (for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro). My biggest stressful worry (this year) was (that) I would be at my best for the worlds. It’s been a pretty good recovery. I am heading into worlds pretty confident.”

Dealing with the injuries has taught MacLean something about herself and how much she enjoys swimming.

“Sometimes, watching from the outside, it really opens you up to what you’ve been doing all these years to try and get to the inside,” she said. “I’ve realized as I’ve been rehabbing and sitting on the sidelines how badly I want to be at my best again.

“It strengthens you as a person and as a swimmer. I think in the years to come it’s going to make be better than I was before.”

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