Countdown to Rio
Alyson Ackman comes from a family of swimmers –she, her brother and sister started swimming when they were young. Both she and her brother, Matt, continued to swim and have qualified for the Canadian National Swim team.
Ackman started swimming when she was 8, and as years went by she developed a passion for the sport, especially when she decided to swim competitively at age 11. But the small team she swam for on a military base in her hometown of Pembroke, Ontario didn’t provide the level of training she needed to continue swimming competitively.
So, when she was 15, she sat down with her parents to make a life-changing decision – to stay at home, or to move away and actively pursue a competitive swimming career. Ackman chose the latter, and she left her home in a small town in Ontario to swim with Pointe-Claire Aquatic Centre in Quebec and pursue her passion in swimming. She initially lived with a host family, but she became so homesick that she decided to move in with her uncle. By the time she was 17, she was living in her own apartment, well before most people move out to live on their own.
Ackman said that hardest obstacle to overcome while training and being far away from her family was homesickness. As she followed a strict swim program, pushing through the physical pain of training she also dealt with overcoming depression as she lived by herself.
But she was able to fight through both the emotional and physical pain and is now a qualified swim competitor, training for events all over the world.
She is currently training for the Pan American Masters Championships in Medellin, Columbia in July 2015 and the FINA (Fédération Internationale de Natation) World Trials in Kazan Russia in August 2015 all while being a full-time Penn State student and practicing twice a day with the Penn State women’s swim team. Her longer-term goals also include training for the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
Now a junior at Penn State and swimming on the Penn State women’s swimming team, she said it’s a “cake walk.” Here, all the opportunities to succeed are right in front of her, whereas before she had to fight to succeed on her own.
Every day, she wakes up for practice at 6 a.m. Then she eats and goes to class before another evening practice. Apart from almost four hours of practice every day, Ackman spends a lot of her time doing what most Penn State students do – studying, hanging out with friends, and pursuing different hobbies like reading and drawing.
Covering the walls of Ackman’s room are sketches she has made since primary school. She keeps notebooks of sketches of things she finds online and recreates – everything from dragons to a stylized Canadian maple leave she found online and recreated on her upper thigh, a tribute to home.
In the corner of her room, her desk is lined with books – both for enjoyment and for classes. Next to her stack of medals and awards sits a calendar with meeting times and class schedules. Academics are very important to Ackman, who is studying kinesiology. Ackman said she holds herself to very high standards, always aiming to get A’s in her classes. This is where training from swimming crosses over into daily activities, where Ackman has learned to apply things she has learned like perseverance, diligence and determination to go above and beyond.