At 17 and just six months since obtaining her driver’s license, Noemie Thomas is already an expert on navigating her way through Vancouver rush hour traffic.
“I know the ins and outs,” chuckled Thomas. “I also go different routes home so it doesn’t get so boring all the time.”
Her weekday commute from Steveston to the city comes with being one of the top up-and-coming swimmers in the country.
Thomas left McMath secondary after her Grade 10 year to enroll at Magee. The school’s sports program for high level athletes not only gives her a flexible schedule, it puts her much closer to the National Swim Centre - Vancouver at UBC where she spends at least five days a week in the water working with coach Tom Johnson.
Her dedication has already produced spectacular results.
Thomas not only made the Canadian team for last summer’s World Championships in Barcelona, the butterfly specialist qualified for the 100 metre final with the fifth fastest time and went on to place seventh overall. Next April, she is a solid bet to secure her national team status again at trials and swim for Canada at the Pan Pacific Championships in Australia and the Commonwealth Games in Scotland.
Thomas’ potential also made her one of the top university recruits in the world. Elite NCAA programs lined-up to offer her full-ride scholarships. She spent the entire month of September on recruiting trips, passing on such high-profile schools as Michigan and Stanford to commit to the University of California Berkeley in the fall of 2014.
Attending UBC was also very much an option that would have kept her under the wing of the national team program. However, led by coach Teri McKeever, the Bears are an NCAA powerhouse that have attracted world class international swimmers, including 2012 Olympic Summer Games star Missy Franklin who won four gold medals at London and is only in her freshman year. Cal’s roster also features athletes from Spain, New Zealand and China.
“The team atmosphere is different than what I am use to with female coaches where I have had male coaches all my life. That really intrigued me,” explained Thomas. “I’m also going to be pushed in training with the high level of athletes they have.”
Thomas says she made a check list and wrote down the pros and cons of each school before making her final decision. It was similar to what she went through five years earlier when she had to make up her mind between swimming and competitive ballet. The choice to end her dance career after eight years was not only a wise one, it would help her succeed in the pool too.
It was her flexibility and leg strength from ballet training that was recognized by her former coach Tom Rushton when she was with the Winskill Dolphins Swim Club.
She was encouraged to focus on the butterfly and the 5-foot-4 dynamo has since thrived in swimming’s most difficult stroke.
“When I was younger I did summer swimming but never the butterfly,” recalled Thomas. “All the jumping in ballet really strengthened my legs and I have good flexibility which is a big thing swimming.”
Other than being away from her family, life in California might be a little less hectic for Thomas than it is now.
Three times a week she is out of the house for training at 4:30 a.m. She attends classes until 11:30 before another couple hours of dryland workouts. She then returns to the pool for a two-hour afternoon session before finally heading home and is typically in bed before 9:30 p.m.. The other two weekdays, she heads to school at 7:30 a.m. and trains after classes.
Next spring promises to be hectic as Thomas prepares for national team trials — never mind high school graduation.
“It’s definitely been a busy last couple of years,” said Thomas. “But I also think the experiences I have been through have made me grow as a person too. There’s a lot of different people I have met through swimming and have got close to as well.”
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