Changing gears from synchronized to speed swimming has been an interesting time for Jessica MacDonald.
But it’s a new world that she’s been embracing since pulling up stakes in Corner Brook two years ago to attend St. Anne’s University in Church Point, N.S.
“The first thing I really noticed was that the endurance is completely different,” MacDonald said from Church Point Thursday afternoon.
“For synchronized (swimming) I had good endurance, I could hold my breath for a long time. But for this ... you hold your breath for three strokes and then you breathe. You’re swimming so fast that you need to have a lot of endurance to swim for longer periods of time.”
MacDonald, 19, was a dominant force on the provincial synchronized swimming scene during her time with the Corner Brook Reflections Synchronized Swim Club. She was rewarded for her dedication to syncho when she represented Newfoundland and Labrador at the 2011 Canada Winter Games.
She moved to Nova Scotia to attend St. Anne’s and found out early on there wasn’t a synchronized swim club in the remote community of Church Point, so she didn’t entertain continuing on with the sport. The closest synchronized swim club to Church Point was based in Halifax — a three-hour drive.
She found out there was a competitive swim club — Les Aquadiens de Clare — based out of the swimming pool on campus at St. Anne’s, so she made an effort to talk to the team’s coach when the season was almost wrapped up.
The coach, Moira Brown, encouraged her to come back in September and join the mix.
MacDonald did so and has no regrets. She no longer had to worry about the void that she felt the first year at St. Anne’s.
She attends practice seven days a week — three times in the morning and four in the evening. It’s a hectic schedule trying to balance competitive sport with academics, but she said it’s no big deal.
“No, definitely used to that,” she said with a chuckle.
While she was accustomed to being at the top of the pack in Newfoundland, she was well aware of how things get tougher once you move off the island and take on some of the big guns.
“For the first couple of competitions ... it was weird seeing my name near the bottom of the list,” she said.
Her best showing in her first three meets of the season was fifth place. That all changed at the junior provincials last weekend in Truro, which just happens to the big event for competitive swimmers honing their skills.
She believes the team’s hard work in preparing for the event was the key to success in Truro. She was proud to see every member of the team put up best times, and more than pleased to snag four silver medals in the 15 & Over age bracket.
“Making it to the finals, for me, was a big thing because I hadn’t done that at any of my other meets,” she said. “So, making it to the finals and then coming out of the finals close to the head of the pack was really fun.
“I was close to gold in two of my events by about a second or so behind the person who got gold,” she added. “Finals were really tough for me because ... it was literally three events swum within 15 minutes, so you really never had enough time to recover before your next one.”
She’s content at St. Anne’s more than ever now. Competing at a high level and immersing herself within a team once again put a smile on her face.
“I’m definitely glad,” she said. “We’ve got a great coach and it’s a nice team up here. It’s definitely a nice experience.”