VANCOUVER – Any builder understands the importance of balance.
For Jonathan Brown it was important to find the proper balance between pursuing swimming at the highest level and studying engineering. Too much time in the water could cause his grades to sink. Miss too many practices studying and he loses in the pool.
That’s why Brown was impressed when the coaching staff at the University of British Columbia/National Swim Centre – Vancouver made the effort to adapt his training schedule to fit both his academic and competitive needs.
“It’s really important to me,” said the 18-year-old Calgary native. “Everyone here is really supportive of my choice to take engineering,
“They understand you only swim until you are 28 or 30 years old. You need to have something past that. They understand that studies stick with you for the rest of your life.”
If Brown has had a busy week of classes, he is excused from Friday morning training sessions. He also has been allowed some flexibility in how he trains.
“They allow me to change training times and adapt my dryland times,” he said. “Sometimes I do my dryland early, go to class, come back and swim, and then go to class after that. It’s hectic but really works well.”
Veteran UBC and national coach Tom Johnson called Brown a “blue-chip kid” but admits the team took “a bit of a chance” because of his heavy course load.
“If there’s anywhere he can do that, it’s here,” said Johnson. “If you get the right academic individual who can combine their academics with high-performance sport, anything is possible if they are orientated that way.”
Brown said UBC’s efforts to support him in and out of the water was a major factor in his coming to Vancouver. Early on he rejected the idea going to school in the United States. Some Canadian universities would have forced him to decide between swimming or engineering.
“When I was deciding what school I was going to go to, there were ones that were one or the other,” he said. “I knew the balance was important to me.
“When I looked into those schools and saw you had to make a choice . . . I had to push those schools away. I had to discard some great schools. I made a great choice coming here.”
Johnson said it benefits the university and the athlete to mould a schedule that creates the opportunity for success in both the pool and the classroom.
“We have to,” said Johnson. “I don’t think they are mutually exclusive for the right kind of athlete.
“That kind of athlete is the kind of athlete we look for at UBC.”
Not all universities, especially some American schools with massive athletic departments, are willing create a symmetry between learning and performing.
“We’re growing people and one of the vehicles is sport,” said Johnson. “We are in a academic community.
“I think the value system in Canada is such that people value higher levels of education. Parents generally want their kids to go to school to be ready for life beyond sport.”
Brown isn’t the first member of the swim team to also study engineering. Former Olympian Tim Peterson graduated from UBC with a degree in mechanical engineering.
Other former UBC swimmers include John McArthur, who went on to be a Rhodes Scholar and now works with the United Nations; and two-time Olympian Turlough O’Hare who is a doctor working in anaesthesia research at McMaster University.
Brown said the environment at UBC breeds winners.
“You look at the walls here, there are Olympians every where, banners for world records,” he said. “This is where people are made Olympians or made champions.”
Engineering is family tradition for Brown. His father and brother are both mechanical engineers. Brown is leaning more toward chemical engineering.
Juggling the classroom and the pool can have its benefits. One activity can relieve the stress from the other.
“When I am doing school I don’t think about practice or how tired I am or how exhausted I feel,” Brown said. “When I am at the pool I don’t worry about anything I have to do outside. I am focused on training, focused on what our team has to do and what I have to do in the pool.”
Brown learned to swim in his grandmother’s backyard pool when he was four years old. He made his way onto the Development Program scene with domestic initiatives such as the 2011 Prospects. In 2012 he was part of the US Youth Tour and in August of that year represented Canada at the Junior Pan Pacific Championships, his first major junior international competition.
This year he competed at the FINA World Junior Championships in Dubai, where he was part of the men’s 4×200-m freestyle relay that finished fourth.
Brown, who swims the 200-m and 400-m individual medley and freestyle, also enjoys watching cooking shows.
“I’m not a cook,” he said. “I like to watch but I’m not good at it.”
His favourites are Chopped and MasterChef.
“I like seeing how people are elevated under pressures,” Brown said. “It’s the same sort of thing as swimming.”
PHOTO: WILSON WONG