Paralympic swimmer Alec Elliot is headed to Rio
Wilfrid Laurier University swim coach, Hans Witolla, took a long pause as he searched for the correct words to describe Paralympic hopeful and Laurier swimmer, Alec Elliot.
“Not only has he found that one thing that he can be great at,” said Witolla. “But he has figured out exactly how to do that thing.”
As for Elliot, there isn’t a shade of doubt that he has found the sport he loves to compete in.
“The feeling when you get on the blocks and you get to race, and you have a good race, is one of the greatest things,” Elliot said.
“You feel so invigorated after… All your hard work actually worked out for something.”
Elliot was born with a condition called syndactyly, which caused the third and fourth finger on his right hand to be connected, as well as an abnormally small pinkie on his left hand, connected toes and overall small hands and feet.
The opportunity to compete as a para-athlete came up after years of competitive swimming, according to Elliot.
“I was facing normal competitors and then about two years after that someone said ‘maybe you can get qualified as a para swimmer,’” he said.
“We got in contact with Swim Canada and said we’d like to have an assessment done.”
Swim Canada classified him as an S9 or an S10 in his swim competitions, with S1 being the least able bodied and S10 being the most. This means he could compete in both non-para and para events.
When asked if he ever felt he was at a disadvantage, Elliot simply shook his head. He sees his Paralympic status as a way of achieving something that may have not otherwise been possible.
“It ended up being an advantage that I did get classed in. I probably wouldn’t have this opportunity without it, I’d have to work a lot harder to make the able-bodied team,” he said.
It’s Elliot’s mentality that Witolla believes makes him stand out and has allowed him to achieve his status as arguably one of the top five para-swimmers in the world, right now.
“I have worked with para athletes for 25 years and the ones that are concerned about them being para athletes are not usually the ones who will be very successful,” said Witolla.
“The ones that will be successful are the ones that look at the way society wants you to look at them and say ‘look what I can do’… [Alec] has the right headspace for that.”
That kind of attitude has also allowed Elliot to train nearly seven days a week during the last year of preparation.
“It’s that mental toughness … the eye of the tiger that says, ‘I’m winning today, I’m beating everybody today,’” Witolla said.
With his injury and past events behind him, all signs point towards Rio for Elliot, with an opportunity to represent his country as well as put Waterloo on the map.
“It’s really exciting because I have a chance to represent Canada and I have a chance to represent the region and this club. It is going to be really cool to see what I can do, how fast I can swim, if I can pick up a medal, pick up a finals[appearance] and have fun with it, too,” Elliot added.
“I think he can do it,” said Witolla. “I don’t want to jinx anybody, but the opportunity is there.”