Alyson Ackman and her younger brother Matthew overcame big challenges in 2014 and both produced the best seasons of their careers. They couldn’t have done it without each other.
Originally from Pembroke, Ont., the Ackmans polished their swimming skills at the Pointe-Claire Swimming Club as teenagers before moving on to their respective varsity teams. Alyson is at Penn State while Matthew attends McGill University in Montreal and still trains at Pointe-Claire.
Both will be in action at the Team Canada Trials Wednesday to Saturday at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. The meet serves as the selection for this summer’s Pan Am Games in Toronto and FINA World Championships in Kazan, Russia. Preliminary heats start at 10 a.m. each day, with finals set for 6 p.m.
In 2014, Alyson put aside more than 10 years of shoulder problems, made her first senior national team and raced at the Commonwealth Games and Pan Pacific Championships. She stepped on the podium at both competitions helping Canada to silver in Glasgow and bronze on the Gold Coast in the 4×200-m freestyle relay.
Matthew also wore Team Canada colors for the first time as a member of the team that competed at the Junior Pan Pacific Championships in Hawaii. The 18-year-old took silver in the 100-m breaststroke in a personal best 1:02.05 and helped Canada to the bronze in the 4×100-m medley relay and 4×100-m freestyle relay.
“We are very much like teammates rather than competitors,” said Matthew about his relationship with his sister. “Because we are such different types of swimmers our conversations and advice centre more around the social and academic aspects of being a swimmer.”
The little brother admits he benefitted from the mistakes made by his older sister. After a season of weekly three-hour treks with her mother from Pembroke to Pointe-Claire, Que., Alyson moved permanently to the Montreal suburb at age 15 where she resided with family and eventually on her own.
“I was not prepared for that and I found it hard to adjust to life on my own,” she said. “We got into swimming initially as an activity and we never thought we’d get this far. But my parents were very supportive and we would have never had these experiences without them.”
“I definitely learned from her mistakes,” said Matthew, a political science and economics student at McGill. “I initially got a room in Pointe-Claire to see if it was for me and see if I could get a handle living on my own. That worked out well and I was able to get an apartment very close to the Pointe-Claire pool and finished my Ontario high school on-line.”
It was Alyson’s success and the fact she left home so young that inspired Matthew to pursue the sport much more intensely.
“When I saw her trophies, medals and awards I certainly got more interested,” Matthew said. “She was a super talent from a young age and my parents kept telling me that I was getting better. We’ve both worked really hard especially in the last year to get to this point.”
“I think being away from home brought our family closer together,” said Alyson. “It was the next step I had to take because the Pembroke pool was too small. I had to move to improve. I was worried about going to a big team like Pointe-Claire but it was the best team I’ve ever been on.”
Matthew particularly needed family advice in 2014 when his swimming world got a little topsy-turvy. He made a decision to attend Southern Methodist University in Dallas and spent the fall semester in the U.S. However he was not thrilled with the training program there and with the advice and support of his family and coaches returned to Canada for the New Year.
“I’m happy with how it all turned out,” he said. “My sister was my go-to person through this and she was supportive and understanding but made sure the decisions were my own.”
Of course, one of the big objectives of the siblings is to one day be on a senior national team together. In 2015 they have set an objective to make that happen for either the World University Games or Pan American Games.
“I can definitely see the day we’ll both be on the national team,” Matthew said. “We are training so hard for that.
“I just have to make sure I keep up with my sister.”