The coronavirus pandemic and temporary shutdown gave people two options (more or less): sit back and wait it out, or, keep moving and find new ways to take advantage of the downtime.
University of Victoria Vikes swimmer Jamie Hellard chose the latter, as she found ways to further her education, continue to train and put smiles on children’s faces.
“I had all this time and was in need of something to do. I’ve known the Island Kids Cancer Association for a while now, so I reached out to them with a new project in mind,” said Hellard, 21.
It began as an Easter gift for her niece. She hadn’t seen her newest family member in several weeks because of the pandemic, so she surprised her with a chalk drawing on her driveway inspired by something she saw online.
She enjoyed doing the drawing and seeing her niece’s reaction so much, Hellard wanted to see if there was an opportunity to make other children smile with her more drawings.
Her vision was well received.
“I think that she’s a pretty amazing young lady. To take time out of her life to be able to put a smile on a young person’s face, it speaks a lot about her and her integrity,” Tania Downy, a Family Navigator for the Island Kids Cancer Association, told CHEK News last month.
Through working with the family liaisons at the Island Kids Cancer Association, Hellard discovered which sick kids had birthdays approaching. On the eve of their big day, she would go over to their home and under the cover of darkness to draw pictures and leave nice messages for the children to wake up to.
“COVID is hard on everybody, especially if you’re sick and have compromised immune systems. I just wanted to safely help people in this time of need. Any little bit of enjoyment, especially for those kids, could go a long way right now,” said Hellard, who began drawing in March.
More than 25 drawings in total, for now. The parents of the sick children relay Hellard their child’s interests and she beautifully portrays it on the sidewalk: flowers, puppies, cartoons, unicorns and much more.
“The drawings, her three other volunteer jobs and two separate part-time jobs just go to show that her head is in the right place,” said Vikes swimming assistant coach Ryan Clouston. “When COVID set in, people had more time on their hands and everyone used it differently. She decided to devote more time to work, school and helping people, along with continuing to train.”
An incredible attitude to maintain, especially after seeing your athletic goal get put on pause.
After finishing up her second season with the Vikes, Hellard was on pace to check off all three of her goals she set for herself before entering the program: win at least one Canada West medal (she won silver in the 50-metre breaststroke and in the 4x100m medley relay), compete in an ‘A’ Finals at the U SPORTS National Championship (she swam in the 50m and 100m breast finals) and make the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Qualifying meet.
Every workout and training session in her life was done with the purpose of reaching an Olympic Qualifying meet. At the U SPORTS meet in her hometown, despite swimming the best of her career, she didn’t have a qualifying time.
That was until she shaved two seconds off her personal best time in the 100m breast (1:12.72) during the B.C. provincial championships, which earned her a birth at the national meet in Toronto in April.
“That was the one meet I’ve always wanted to make – it’s been my dream since I began swimming,” said Hellard, a social sciences student. “When it got cancelled, it was disappointing, but less disappointing for me because I still have a long way to go to make the national team.”
The Swimming Canada grabs the two fastest swimmers in each race, providing the swimmers touch the wall below the FINA A standard qualifying time. This year, she needed to get under 1:09.08 in the 100m breast.
Doable, but there was likely only one spot available, as University of Manitoba’s Kelsey Wog – who was named the U SPORTS Female Athlete of the Year after she owned the breaststroke at the national meet with four gold medals – seemed to be a shoe-in on the squad.
Hellard has became familiar with Wog over the years. Racing against her before and during her time as a Vike, the two often lined up against one another in key races.
“I’ve always looked up to Kelsey and we have some small talk at the conference and national meets. I reached out to her after she won the Athlete of the Year award and she was very encouraging. She told me to keep working, training and that she hoped things would get back to normal for both of us one day.”
Taking that message to heart, Hellard began trying to find ways to stay in shape.
When Saanich Commonwealth Place closed on March 16, she needed a place to swim. Luckily, her neighbour had a pool. Unfortunately it was 12m long.
“I was able to work on my turns a ton in there, to the point where I began to get motion sickness. Instead of taking Gravol before each swim, I found a giant elastic to tie myself to that allowed me to swim continuously,” said Hellard.
Swimming an hour everyday without going anywhere soon became stale, so she found other ways to stay engaged.
One day, she walked a marathon – nine painful hours. Another day she rode 100-kilometres on a stationary bike. She even swam 12km in her neighbour’s pool, anything she could to do to build off her strong and improving season.
“When everyone went their separate ways for COVID, we got all our athletes set up on Strava, so we could monitor their training schedules,” said Clouston. “Once we checked in, we saw that she was doing these huge workouts three or four times a day, while other swimmers in our program were only active once a day or not at all.”
As difficult as it has been to stay in shape, it has also been difficult to see her teammates.
Hellard has helped organize team events such as virtual paint nights and masked hikes, anything to keep the team comradery high.
“I’m just trying to spread some positive vibes and stay as connected as possible during this time,” said Hellard.
When it comes to her down time during COVID, there is nothing Hellard won’t do to stay busy and enjoy this newfound free time.