By Sharon Robb
March 31, 2015—The best is yet to come.
With that kind of renewed enthusiasm for competitive swimming, Lisa Blackburn is taking another run at the Olympics.
With her competitive fires still burning at 43, the Bermuda national champion quit her corporate job and started training with the South Florida Aquatic Club twelve weeks ago.
Buoyed by training with a small group of elite pros at SOFLO that includes world record holder and three-time Jamaican Olympian Alia Atkinson, Russian European champion Valentina Artemeva and two-time Colombian Olympian Carolina Colorado, Blackburn is motivated to swim fast at the four-day Canada Team Trials that begin Wednesday in Toronto, site of the Pan American Games which she is trying to qualify for.
Blackburn is seeded 29th in the 100-meter breaststroke in 1:12.86; 48th in the 50-meter breaststroke (32.88) and 63rd in the 50-meter freestyle (27.69).
The meet features 572 Canadian athletes from 138 clubs, competing for spots on the Canadian national team for the Pan American Games, World Championships, FINA World Junior Championships and World University Games.
The field also includes 200 foreign entries from Bermuda, United States, Puerto Rico, Denmark, Aruba, Ireland, Finland and Sweden.
All eight sessions of the meet will be webcast live at http://www.swimming.ca. Prelims are 10 a.m. and finals 6 p.m. at the Pan Am Sport Centre.
Blackburn is trying to qualify for the July 10-26 Pan American Games for Bermuda.
The women’s breaststroke field features Breeja Larson, Kierra Smith, Martha McCabe, Tera Van Beilen, Ashley McGregor and Fiona Doyle.
“I want to swim fast,” Blackburn said. “I have specific times in mind but I want to keep those numbers to myself. I want to go faster than 1:12 which I did at the Grand Prix in Orlando. I am looking forward to the racing competition and checking out the Pan Am Games pool.”
Blackburn holds five Bermuda individual national long course records (50, 100 and 200 breaststroke, 200 butterfly and 200 individual medley) and three relay records. She is also a masters world record holder in the 100-meter breaststroke (40-44).
She made her first Olympic Trials in 1988 and just missed the 2012 London Games by 0.03 seconds.
“I am really happy with where I am,” Blackburn said. “It’s great to be in Florida with Chris Anderson and my teammates. It’s been great training with Alia and the other pro swimmers.
“I have only been in Florida for twelve weeks but I feel a lot stronger, fitter, faster and more confident,” Blackburn said. “I am really excited where I am with my swimming and personal life.”
Blackburn stopped swimming twice in her 30-year swimming career.
“I stopped the first time because I was kind of too old,” Blackburn said. “I finished university at 22 and it was just unheard of to continue to swim post-grad. Back then nobody continued after university. They got a career and had a family. That’s what you did.”
Blackburn started coaching kids during her time away from competing.
“I found I really missed it,” she said. “Coaching brought me back to the sport at that time. The feedback and opportunity to coach and teach kids all the things I learned made me think to apply this stuff to my own swimming. I got back in the water and again started competing a few more years down the road.”
Blackburn stopped a second time in 2004 when she was 32. She moved to Australia to start a new chapter in her life.
“I was just frustrated at the time,” Blackburn said. “I hadn’t met some expectations I put on myself and went off to Australia. But the swim bug bit me again. I swam with some exceptional swimmers at the University of Sydney and it was great. I loved it and I just stayed with it.”
Age is just a number now for Blackburn.
“Nowadays, it’s more accepted and people understand why someone would continue to pursue sport and dream. I have a few sponsors who have been really, really great supporting and encouraging me.
“I worked in a corporate environment, but it just wasn’t for me. In swimming, I’m passionate and enjoy what I’m doing. It’s a lifestyle I enjoy. I want to make other people excited about pursuing their dream whether it’s sport or the arts. Whatever your dream is it doesn’t matter how old you are. You get excited and you push yourself to attain it.
“I enjoy pushing myself and striving for goals. The Olympics continue to elude me. I want to give it one more shot. I am really excited where I am training and who I am training with.”
She is also passionate about her home country.
“I love the fact that I am representing my country,” Blackburn said. “It’s such an honor to put a small, 20-mile island that we call home on the international map.”
Blackburn retired from her full-time job in September.
“Swimming is my full-time job now, however I am not getting paid,” Blackburn said. “Nowadays to compete at the international and pro level you have to make a 100 percent commitment to training and recovery especially as I get a bit older.
“I wanted to see how good I could really be. It’s important at this stage of my life to know that this is what I want to do. I didn’t want to have any regrets at the end of the day. It’s special to me and I can learn from what I am doing and hopefully motivate other people to pursue their dreams as well.”
Five-time Olympian and 12-time Olympic medalist Dara Torres has been an inspiration for Blackburn. At 41, she was the oldest swimmer to make an Olympic team (2008) and following reconstructive knee surgery made another run at the 2012 Olympics but placed fourth at the Trials in her signature 50-meter freestyle event.
“Dara has been a role model for me,” Blackburn said. “She laid the groundwork. We might be in our 20s, 30s, or 40s, but we are not dead. We are here.
“Life is about doing things that make you happy and this is what makes me happy and excited about life.”
Anderson said it was Blackburn’s enthusiasm and willingness to work that led him to coaching her.
“That’s exactly why at this time in her life she is 100 percent committed to training and doing the right things to be successful,” Anderson said.
“She has been consistent for the first time in a long time. She has a base where she can rest and taper from, whereas before it was race, race, race all the time.”
SOFLO, the most successful age group program in the Florida Gold Coast for the last five years, added a new dimension with five new pros joining Atkinson.
“The theme of the entire pro team is to train and act younger,” Anderson said. “The key to their success is to be more open-minded and do the necessary work it takes to be successful. That whole group is extremely dynamic and entertaining and Lisa is one of the leaders of that group.”
Sharon Robb can be reached at email@example.com