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Saturday, Jun. 23, 2018
Plenty of promise in pool prospect Nina Kucheran
by Randy Pascal

The road between qualifying for Olympic Trials, and actually cracking the roster of the Canadian Olympic Swim team is a long and bumpy one. Sudbury native Nina Kucheran fully understands that.

Competing at the Trials for the first time in April, but still a ways away from donning the national colours, the 16 year old Sudbury pool sensation can now sleep soundly with the knowledge that her ultimate dream is not an unrealistic one. It was a far more blurry vision of the future that danced in her head when Kucheran first started swimming lessons, at roughly the age of five.

“My parents kind of threw me in everything,” she said. “I was in figure skating, I loved soccer, a little bit of gymnastics, and a lot of school sports in elementary.” Swimming, however, was different. The connection was immediate, and to some extent, evident to one and all.

“Before I even started with SLSC (Sudbury Laurentian Swim Club), I was taking lessons at Nickel District pool,” Kucheran reminisced. “There’s level one, level two, stuff like that, and I got to a certain point where I couldn’t go any farther because of my age.” Like her older sister Emmy, Nina was too young to be allowed to move on.

“So then we started doing endurance swims with people that were older, and we were keeping up.” The siblings joined the SLSC at the same time, and have been somewhat inseparable ever since, a situation that will change come September, when Emmy heads off to the University of Waterloo.

While both of the Kucheran girls have enjoyed a measure of success in the pool, there has something special about the little one, almost since day one. “I am an extremely competitive person,” Nina admitted. “That competitive drive helps me a lot, in races and practices. I love working out and being fit, setting fitness goals.”

“We do dryland twice a week, and both me and my sister live for the dryland training. When I’m not swimming, I like to just get out to the gym.” It wasn’t long before reaching the standards to qualify for provincial championships became a run-of-the-mill routine. But that would merely equate Kucheran with hundreds of swimmers across the province who can find their way through to a final or more when the best in Ontario gather.

Hardly Olympic material, to be honest. “Ontario Junior Internationals in December of 2014,” blurted Kucheran. “That’s when it really hit. Before that, I would go to nationals and get to the finals, but I wasn’t close to winning. I always remember this meet, because everything came together.”

“I qualified for Olympic Trials in the 200m breaststroke and 100m breaststroke, and had some really good I.M. (individual medley) races. I made it to the finals at 14, racing against people that were 16 and 17.”

“Starting from that moment, I got really, really excited about my training,” Kucheran continued. Which is saying a lot, considering she had already been viewed, for quite some time, as a highly driven young lady. Clearly, it was time for a road bump along the way.

Preparing for the Pan Am Trials, Kucheran slipped while scaling the climbing wall at Laurentian University, fracturing her foot just over a year ago. “Training was a lot harder coming back,” she said. “That was probably the biggest challenge.”

The effect of the injury would run a little deeper, as those around her struggled with the balancing act that is required when an athlete has demonstrated the type of elite potential that Kucheran had displayed.

“I don’t think, a lot, before I act, as you can tell from falling off that wall,” she said with a smile. “I get really excited about things and go too fast. My mother, certainly, thinks differently now. She doesn’t let me do nearly as much stuff. I didn’t ski at all this winter.”

It is clear, from the tone of her voice, that Kucheran is more than a little thankful for the wisdom of oversight that comes from those several years older than she is. There is no sense of resentment, simply a realization of trying to do what is best in helping her reach her goals.

“I guess I am a little bit more careful now,” she said. “I try and slow myself down a little, but my mom really helps to limit me.” Hers is a recognition grounded in trying to stay in the moment, dealing with the ups and downs that will come her way.

“Olympic Trials were a little bit of a letdown, because I didn’t do as well as I wanted to,” stated Kucheran. “It wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t a mess, it just wasn’t as well as I wanted to.” The key, at that particular moment in time, as it is with so many athletes, lies in the support of those around them.

“A big part of what makes this fun is the people that I am with all the time,” said Kucheran. “My teammates are like a second family for me. My sister is a big part of it – she supports me, no matter what. I absolutely love my coach (Dean Henze). My mom does everything for me.”

“I do have to remind myself, at times, that this is just a sport,” she added. “It’s not supposed to be something that brings me down. I do have goals, and I want to be good, but I am still young, and it has to be fun.”

Thankfully, there is always the next step ahead. Kucheran is off to Edmonton in early August, competing at Senior Nationals. “It’s kind of scary, but it’s exciting,” she suggested. “Racing “open” is something I need to start doing. I need more experience racing people that are much faster than me.”

The progress, at this meet, will not lie within a podium finish – at least, not necessarily. “It’s always about beating my times, but when it comes to the 200m breaststroke, I really want to final (top eight) and see how close to a medal I can be.” It won’t hurt that the very best Canadians, in virtually every event, will be somewhat pre-occupied in Rio de Janiero.

And though training without Emmy will require an adjustment, there will be the next wave of young SLSC talent joining Kucheran in the senior grouping in the fall – Thomas Boyd, Abby MacDonald, Everett Smith. “It’s exciting, because we’re all kind of getting to that point together,” she said.

Not that it takes much to excite Nina Kucheran. Not when she is at the pool.

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