Photo credit: Denise Bacon

By Denise Bacon

As the fingertips of the last swimmer of the four-person team in the women’s 4 X 100 freestyle relay touched the wall on July 25, this country lit up as the first medal of the 2021 Olympic Games was won for Canada. In Kayla Sanchez’ home, her mom, Susana, was worried that the authorities may come knocking as the family erupted in ecstasy! The Sanchez family calls West Rouge home and the whole street was behind “their” Olympian who returned from Tokyo to a rousing celebration hosted by neighbours.

Despite Kayla’s personal and team successes in Tokyo, winning a silver medal was followed up by winning bronze in the women’s 4 X 100 medley relay, she remains humble. She acknowledged that she was honoured and proud to have won the medals, along with her teammates. “There are lots of highlights on winning medals, but medals aren’t everything,” said Kayla. “It’s really important to shoot for what you love to do and to do your best.”

Kayla felt that she was on the best national team with all the women sharing the same passion for swimming and their collective goal to do well for Canada. She trained with 10 of the 26 team members, and they are a very tight-knit group, cheering each other on and celebrating each other’s successes.

Kayla’s success in Tokyo was earned from years of training and competitions in Canada and internationally. Dad, Noel, said that he wanted both his daughters to know how to swim, a critical life skill. Noel said that this is really the only sport that can save lives!

At 4 years of age, Kayla started with community swimming lessons at Mowat where she surpassed what public lessons could offer by the time she was 7. Noel and Susana enrolled Kayla in the Pickering Swim Club where she developed her skill and passion very quickly. The 2016 Olympics proved to be the catalyst for Kayla’s swimming career to take off. She was inspired by swimming Olympians whom she got to meet at the time.

At 15 years of age, Kayla signed up with the High Performance Centre of Ontario, based out of the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre on Morningside Ave. There she had a training regimen of 24 to 30 hours a week, which included pool, dry land and weight training. Swim Canada and Sport Canada supported and funded Kayla’s intense training and competition schedule.

Kayla emphasizes the importance of her community and the support she has received throughout. “My family had a big role to play with my swimming because they ensured that I was always in the right environment to swim.” Little sister, Klara, brims with pride about her big sister. Klara missed Kayla while she was away at UBC’s training centre for months prior to the Olympics and while Kayla was in Tokyo. But Klara understood that the time away was the right thing for Kayla.

Susana made sure to highlight Kayla’s successes outside the pool, too. Kayla was valedictorian at St. Brendan’s school and was an honour student throughout high school, despite her heavy training schedule.

Noel hopes that Kayla will be an inspiration for children and parents. “Children can know that hard work and perseverance can pay off in whatever they do. Parents need to make time to accompany their children to pursue their dreams,” said Noel.

“Even without the medals, I think the beauty of sports is always wanting to be better,” said Kayla.Her sentiment extends to any passion that young people have. “It’s important to really like what you do!”