It takes dedication and discipline to rise before dawn and start the day with a swim practice, but it is a choice Stephen Liu makes willingly.
The grade 10 student says swimming plays a vital role in his life: “It’s what drives me; it is very important to my well-being.”
Those reasons make it easier to adhere to a strict schedule. At each morning, he practices his strokes and builds endurance at the Stronach Aurora Recreation Complex. In addition, four afternoons each week, he returns after school to train again. Each practice he swims between 4,000 and 6,000 metres– or 80 to 120 laps of the pool. On Sundays, he allows himself a day off.
Stephen began swimming at age three in Hong Kong, when his parents moved there from Vancouver, where he was born. “I learned how to speak Chinese and to swim,” he laughs. Transferrable skills he took with him when at age 11, his family moved to Dallas.
“My parents met as students at Texas A&M University. They felt it important I learn to speak English, so they decided to return to that area.” While there, Stephen swam with the City of Plano Swimmers, building his skills and competing in state championships. When the Lius moved to Newmarket a couple of years later, Stephen joined the Aurora Ducks Swimming Club.
As a member of the Ducks, he competes regularly at meets across Ontario and into Quebec. He’s proud of the two provincial medals he’s won at two different competitions; one in freestyle and the other in backstroke, his favourite stroke.
Stephen has his sights set to compete at OFSAA again in March for his second year representing the St. Andrew’s Swim team.
“My time standards show that I should make the cut,” he says. However, since coming to St. Andrew’s last year in grade 9, he’s worked hard to juggle school and swimming commitments, as well as his second love, playing saxophone in the Wind Ensemble.
“Time management is important,” Stephen says. “I like to stay on task and do things right.”
These are the very traits that makes him so successful, according to his SAC Swim Coach, Christine McCue, who describes Stephen as extremely coachable.
“It is not often that you meet such a shy and modest athlete with this much natural talent and strong work ethic,” she says, noting his extraordinary attention to detail. “He is constantly asking for feedback from each race and during practices. What makes working with Stephen so special is that he reflects upon feedback and makes changes to his technique and race strategies instantly.”
“I’m never afraid to change up my stroke,” adds Stephen, “especially if it pushes me forward and makes me better.”
Story by Cindy Veitch