VICTORIA – Growing up playing cricket and Australian football, Christopher Deegan would have never thought to be ranked within Australia’s top 10 open water swimmers, five times since 2012.
At the age of nine, after participating in a school carnival race with little to no experience in the water, Deegan decided to take on the sport by joining a competitive swimming club.
“It seemed like I had a little bit of an ability (to swim),” said fourth year Deegan. “No one in my family had ever swam competitively, so it was new for me and my parents.”
Seven years later, in 2012, he was named to the Junior National Team where he represented Australia at the Junior Pan Pacific Championships in the open water event, having only swam the gruelling 10-kilometer race twice in his life.
Born and raised in Adelaide, Australia, Deegan decided to make good use of his dual citizenship by moving to Victoria. For the last three years of his psychology degree, he competed for the Vikes varsity swimming program, while simultaneously competing in open water events around the world.
(Photo by AP Shutter)
“I was looking for the best place to develop myself as an open water swimmer,” Deegan said. “Being in Adelaide at the time was not the best place for me to develop these skills. I started contacting different coaches when a fellow Australian swimmer advised me to contact Ron Jacks, who is in charge of the open water swimmers at UVic.”
“There were a couple of good training partners for me to look forward to since I didn’t have that luxury at home, and having a group around me with a common goal of working towards the 10-km is what appealed to me.”
UVic has become known for its swimmers who have also done well competing internationally in open water. Though all the varsity swimming is in the pool, the proximity of the open water training programs in Victoria have added a unique aspect to the university swimming program and it is one of the only schools in Canada that has had such a close tie to successful international results in open water swimming.
Under the guidance of three-time Olympian and coach Ron Jacks, Vikes swimmers Eric Hedlin, Stephanie Horner, Jon McKay and Victoria Mock have all represented Canada at the international level within months of training with him. Jacks was also the coach of UVic stand out Richard Weinberger, a two-time Olympian and bronze medallist in the 10-km open water event at the 2012 London Olympics.
Chris Deegan (far right) in open water competition
Unlike pool swimming, open water has a few key differences. To start, the race takes place in different bodies of water ranging from lakes, rivers to oceans. It can also range from five, 10-, 25- to 32 kilometers, with 10-km being the Olympic distance.
Deegan’s love for the event stems from the dynamics that the event has in comparison to pool swimming. He also realized that he was more of an aerobic long-distance athlete, explaining that he tried to use that to the best of his ability.
“Experience benefits you greatly,” highlighted Deegan. “You draft off of other swimmers, similar to cycling, and navigating is also involved. You need to know when to attack and when to be defensive. These are all things that don’t really have an impact in pool swimming. You really need to have an awareness of what is going on around you and how the race is developing.”
Throughout Deegan’s time at UVic, his swimming career has progressed. Deegan qualified and competed at the U SPORTS Swimming Championships each of the past three years and successfully completed the Traversee FINA World cup event held in Lac Saint. Jean, Que., last summer. He finished the grueling 32-km race in seven hours and ranked seventh place.
“There were a lot of great international swimmers there so to be a part of such a testing race was pretty special,” he added.
Vikes varsity swimming assistant coach Ryan Clouston was with him the entire time in a boat cheering him on and making sure he got something to eat or drink every 15 minutes.
“He impressed the knowledgeable crowd and announcers at the race more than almost any other swimmer that day,” said Clouston. “Rookies of the ultra-distance event usually just try to feel it out and follow the veteran athletes. Chris worked hard to climb from behind to the front on three separate occasions which took a lot of guts, bravery, and a will to succeed beyond many I’ve ever seen.”
“Finishing in the top half of the race was a great result for a rookie, and the competitors and local fans saw him as a future winner of the race given his impressive first showing.”
Deegan recently competed in the Australian Open Water National Championships in his hometown of Adelaide. In order to make the Australian national team to participate in the World Championships this summer, he would have needed to finish in the top four. Although Deegan finished in eighth, he is proud of his achievement. Australia is known to be one of the highest ranking countries in the world for swimming.
Since his return back to Canada, Deegan competed in his final U SPORTS Swimming National Championship in Vancouver, Feb. 21-23, and finished seventh overall in the 1500-m freestyle. Teammate and fellow open water swimmer Eric Hedlin touched for gold in a new U SPORTS record, his second time winning that event in the past four seasons.
Open water coach Ron Jackswith with Vikes Eric Hedlin, Stephanie Horner and Chris Deegan
In the summer of 2019 Deegan will compete in the 32-km Traversee World Cup in Lac-Saint Jean, Que.for the second time in hopes of ranking higher as well as taking the next step to make the Australian Senior National Team for the 10-km race. In the future, Deegan is leaning towards applying for a Masters program in psychology and taking triathlon back up in Australia to continue pursuing his passion for long-distance events.
Deegan believes his decision to move across the globe was the right move as the coaches at UVic have collectively helped him to perform his best as an open water swimmer. He also feels strongly about his fellow teammates who carry a positive team culture and are in good hands for the future.
Vikes varsity swimming head coach Peter Vizsolyi described Deegan’s biggest moment was drop life in Australia to come swim for the Vikes. Moreover, Deegan’s commitment has been evident every day in training.
“He is determined and he doesn’t care if you can beat him in workout,” said Vizsolyi, Vikes head coach for the past 37 years. “He never lets what happened in workout affect what he thinks about the race. He’ll always swim his best in a race and it will serve him well.”
Deegan’s perseverance shows through his devotion to the sport and drive shown during his long races. Despite training 8-10 kilometers per practice, Deegan finds swimming to be a great escape from school. His ability to find satisfaction in the sport, particularly in completing such long distance swims compared to shorter races in the pool, has allowed him to keep pushing forward. Deegan also thrives from seeing the proud emotions of his family and friends who watch and support him swim.
“There have been people from the beginning to the end and people who come and go, but the ones who are there for you through the whole thing, through your ups and downs no matter where you train, are your parents,” remarked Deegan who will graduate in the Spring of 2019.
Deegan is among 44 Vikes student-athletes who will be recognized in an evening reception on Mar. 20 celebrating Vikes who have competed for three or more seasons and are graduating or are finished their years of eligibility.