Saskatoon swimmer finds freedom in quest for gold

Saskatoon's Shelby Newkirk is at the top of her game, swimming and competing internationally with her sights set clearly on the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

Newkirk just returned from a swim meet in Denmark.

"Believe in yourself and don't let anything limit you," Newkirk told CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning. "It was great to be able to compete on such a big stage."

The 20-year-old clearly lives to compete, but at the very heart of what drives her in the pool is the sense of freedom she finds there.

"I don't need a wheelchair. I don't need crutches."

When Newkirk was 13, she was diagnosed with early-onset generalized dystonia, a neurological movement disorder, with symptoms spread throughout her body.  

Newkirk found her way into the pool when her mother had a chance encounter with co-worker.

"My mom was working with somebody at the time who was a swim coach with the para-swim team, and my mom was telling her about the health issues I was having and how she would like to get me back into sport. And the coach at the time was like, 'I have a para-swimming team. She can definitely come and check it out.'"

Record setter turning heads

Any hesitation Newkirk may have felt when she first entered the pool faded when she realized that not only could she keep up with other swimmers, she could actually beat a few.

Now in her fifth year of competition, she holds five Canadian records in para-swimming. She said that she will never forget the first time she set a record. 

"I knew that it was kind of a possibility and to actually look up and see my time — and I kind of looked up to my mom to kind of confirm … I was very excited."

Newkirk's rapid rise has captured the attention of national team coaches, and resulted in an invitation to the NextGen Camp program, designed to train Canadian swimmers for the 2020 Paralympic Games.