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Leaside’s first Athlete of the Year

Martha McCabe

Martha McCabe, swimmer

Bennington Heights-raised swimmer Martha McCabe has been named Leaside’s first annual Athlete of the Year by the Leaside Sports Hall of Fame Committee.

A world championship medal winner who is aiming for the Olympics in Rio in 2016, she is a former Leaside High School student who credits her track coach at Leaside High, Dave Christiani, as one of her most important influences.

“He had a big part in making me the athlete I am. He let us decide for ourselves whether we were serious about doing the necessary training. I always knew I wanted to succeed but Dave Christiani helped me realise I had to take responsibility for my own training. It was great to learn that discipline while young.”

She wasn’t involved in only track and swimming.

“I played hockey with Leaside Girls, soccer, running cross-country, and track and field. It was important to be an all-round athlete and not just limited to one sport.

“I was swimming six times a week, but I was also running six times a week and playing hockey. This cross-training helped me tremendously. Swimming can be kind of mind-numbing. With the diversity of sports I had growing up I feel fresher now compared to others who spent more time in the pool.”

The ceremony and reception were to be held Nov. 29 (after our deadline) in the Leaside arena’s William Lea Room where McCabe was to be honoured along with the induction of the 10 inaugural members of the Leaside Sports Hall of Fame.

“The selection committee decided that athletes who are still competing should not be considered for the Hall of Fame,” said member Michael Bliss. “As soon as we did that, then the choice of Martha as Athlete of the Year became obvious.”

McCabe is the youngest of four children of Nancy and Joe McCabe. All four were competitive athletes, three of them at Leaside High School before heading off to university. Her two sisters and brother each went to McGill University, and all three are now back living and working in Toronto. She went instead to the University of British Columbia on the strength of the swimming program and graduated with a degree in human kinetics.

She began swimming competitively at the Granite Club under coach Bill Durant and made Canada’s national team in 2009. She competed at the 2010 Commonwealth games in New Delhi, came third in the world championships in Shanghai in 2011 in the 200m breast stroke, and placed fifth in that event in London last year.

She is currently training hard with hopes to compete for Canada not only at the Olympic Games  but also at the Commonwealth Games next summer and World Championships in 2015. “Finishing just shy of the podium at the 2012 Olympics, I am fighting to be a serious medal contender in Rio.”

McCabe is based in Toronto, supported by the RBC Olympian Program, which lets her work part-time apart from the 25 hours a week that she trains at the U of T Aquatic Centre. RBC also arranges for her to speak to community groups and schools.

“A huge part of my life is talking in the schools, sharing my story with young kids. Sometimes when people see an athlete on television it can seem distant and unreal. When I’m with them in person, I can say, ‘I was there where you are now, I worked hard, you can do it too.’  And I love the reaction: sometimes a coach or parent will tell me afterwards that a kid changed something as a result. I love that chance to motivate them!”

Although Swimming Canada also arranges for McCabe and her teammates to spend some time training in Florida, especially during the winter “to get us away from the cold and distractions,” she still spends most of her time in Toronto.

She lives downtown but gets home to Leaside regularly. “My sisters and I especially make time to get together often. And on Sundays we almost always meet at our parents’ house in Leaside for dinner to make sure that we all see each other.”

She expected to be training in Florida the week of the ceremony so wouldn’t be able to attend the ceremony, but her  parents were to be there to accept and speak on her behalf.