By Jim Morris
He’s already proven what he can do in the water. Now Brent Hayden wants to show what he can accomplish with his brain.
The 2012 Olympic bronze medallist and former world champion in the 100-metre freestyle will appear on the CBC television program Canada’s Smartest Person. He’s one of 32 participants in the interactive television series that hopes to redefine what it means to be smart.
“It’s not how smart you are but how you are smart,” said Hayden.
Since retiring from competitive swimming after the 2012 London Olympics Hayden has developed his skills as a photographer, worked on music videos with his wife Nadina Zarifeh and has organized swim camps for young swimmers. He is even dipping his toe into politics, running for a sport on Vancouver’s park board in the Nov. 15 municipal election.
By appearing on Canada’s Smartest Person Hayden hopes to show his horizons extend beyond a pool deck.
“I think it’s good to be able to show people that I am more than just a swimmer,” said the 30-year-old Mission, B.C., native who now lives in Vancouver. “I know I have sort of been proving that through my photography lately.
“I think it’s good to show how many dimensions I actually do have, that I am not just a one- or even two-dimensional person. I do have all these sort of underlying talents and attributes and qualities.”
Each week on Canada’s Smartest Person, four participants compete in six categories that include music, physical, social, logical, visual and linguistic. Eight finalists advance to the final. Hayden’s episode airs Nov. 16.
Hayden, who still holds the Canadian records in the 50-, 100- and 200-m freestyle, isn’t the first athlete to compete on show. Peter Dyakowski, an offensive lineman with the CFL Hamilton Tiger-Cats, won the title in March 2012.
Hayden became involved with Canada’s Smartest Person when a CBC employee, who isn’t involved with the show, emailed him last spring suggesting he should apply. Hayden went through the interview process and made it to the show.
For a person used to training hard for major events, Hayden found preparing for the program totally different.
“They said it’s nothing you can really train for,” he said. “It’s either you are smart or you are not.
“I definitely picked up some more puzzle games on my phone to play.”
Filming took place over two days during the summer. It was a grueling schedule but Hayden enjoyed the experience.
“Myself and the other contestants were having a great time,” he said. “Even though it was a competition, between the takes, back in the green room and around the studio, we were all hanging out, laughing, having a good time. It was a lot of fun.”
Hayden couldn’t talk about who was named this season’s champion but enjoyed the chance to change the perception some people might of had about him.
“I’m pretty confident with my intelligence,” he said. “I think other people will probably learn something about me.
“I think sometimes with my happy-go-lucky attitude, people misunderstand that a little bit and they pass me off as not really being that highly intelligent. I think a lot of people will be quite surprised.”
It was a busy summer for Hayden and his wife. Besides his involvement with Canada’s Smartest Person, Hayden and Zarifeh – also a former competitive swimmer – conducted four swim camps, three in B.C. and one in Alberta.
The weekend camps involved instruction in the water, dryland training techniques, plus discussions about nutrition and sports psychology.
“It’s a very education-intense weekend,” said Hayden.
“The thing I love about the way I do these camps is, it’s not just about going in and relying on the inspiration factor. We go in and make sure these kids learn a ton. We want to change their whole mentality.”
Over the last year Hayden has also had two shows of his photography, one in Mission and one in Vancouver’s Gastown district.
“Both were very successful,” he said. “We got tons of great coverage. I sold a bunch of prints.”
Hayden is also proud that a music video Zarifeh released last month is receiving play on one of the top music channels in Egypt.
Hayden’s plunge into politics was prompted by his concerns over how some of the local community centres are operated.
“I’ve never considered myself to be a political person,” said Hayden. “I was quite reluctant at the beginning. As I started getting more interested in the details of how these things are run, the more I found out, the more annoyed I was becoming.
“I understand my position of influence could be very useful. I am stepping out of my comfort zone. I feel I could make a difference.”
It didn’t take long for Hayden to get a taste of what politics is like. Soon after announcing he was running he was bombarded with hate mail.
“It’s been interesting to say the least,” he said.
“It was tough at first. I tend to take things a little personal. Then I realized these are probably from people who are supporters of other groups. Maybe they are feeling threatened by me and so they are trying to intimidate me.”