After five years spearheading the McMaster swimming team, Olivvya Chow has swum her last collegiate competition for the McMaster Marauders. Initially coming to Mac from thousands of kilometres away, Chow quickly felt like she belonged on campus.
“I’m from British Columbia and if you’re in a sport, there are only two or three schools out there so you have to look at other universities,” said Chow. “I came here for a recruiting trip and everyone here was just so nice and inviting. They flew my mom out which was a big deal because it’s pretty far. As soon as I came here, I knew I wanted to come here and I accepted on the very last day the last time during my recruiting trip.”
A mainstay of the Marauder swimming team and a strong presence in the national swimming circuit, Chow can hang up her swim cap after another strong and successful season filled with medals. As one of the more tenured members of the program, Chow has settled into more of a leadership role due to the large amount of incoming rookies.
“There are 24 rookies, so they take over our entire team,” said Chow. “So you’re doing whatever you can to get them to practice, have them motivated to get them to swim. I thought less of myself and it was more developing them as their personalities, their training and stuff like that. I was less stressed about how I would swim versus how they would swim.”
One notable rookie to immediately make a splash across the country was Isabelle Lei, who set records and earned a lot of hardware in her own right. In addition to being a big presence on the team, Lei is a fellow B.C. native who actually swam for the same home team as Chow.
“We have a little rivalry, not really, but she took all my records at the home club and then she came here, and we’re in some different strokes,” Chow said of Lei. “But she went two minutes which is very impressive for 200[m freestyle], and I started crying. I was so excited for her and that inspired me to race harder just because of the way she swam.”
“When Isabelle raced, four of our teammates started crying and you don’t see that in any other sport. We are like a family, and I know that sounds very cliché, but we honestly are.”
McMaster Swimming Team
Looking back on her time with the swimming program, Chow will most fondly remember the moments and experiences outside of the pool possibly more than any moment racing.
“Just being on a sports team is probably the best experience anyone could ever have,” Chow said. “You’re never going to be able to make friendships like this. I’m never going to live in a house like this, so I just cherish those moments. I live in a swimmers’ house with six girls, so it’s something I’m never going to experience again, but it’s an experience that everyone should have.”
Chow is of course no stranger to the podium herself; the Surrey native once again helped the women’s swimming team collectively medal in the Ontario University Athletics tournament in early February. While bringing home four individual medals of her own, including three gold, she contributed to two relay medals as well, resulting in an overall team bronze for the second consecutive year.
This is the second time the women’s team was able to reach the podium during Chow’s tenure, with last year being a defining moment in her collegiate career.
“For sure last year when we medalled at [OUAs], we were third and we hadn’t been third since I came here and there were 16 of us,” Chow said of her fondest memories at Mac. “You can have a team of 18 so that team wasn’t full and we still medaled which was pretty impressive.”
Most impressively, Chow was able to etch her name into the history books once again, breaking two OUA records (both she had previously held): one in 100m breast stroke with a time of 1:08.44, and one in 50m breast stroke with a time of 31.26.
“It was the last time I was going to race so I just had to know to trust in my coaches trust in my training and just go for it,” Chow said. “There were three of us who were going to be under the cut no matter what. So it was just whoever got their hand on the wall first.”
Chow took her success down to Toronto to the U Sports Championships, proving to be the top-performing Marauder at the national tournament as the only Mac swimmer to reach the podium. The French and economics major brought home a silver medal in 100m breast stoke and a bronze in the 50m breast stroke. Chow also helped the Marauders to a fourth-place finish in the 4x100m medley relay.
While medals look great in trophy cases and in pictures, Chow emphasized just how strong the bond is between the swimmers at Mac. Especially in a sport that primarily consists of individual events, the Marauders’ support for one another and their team-first mentality truly sets them apart from other programs.
“Mac is very inclusive,” Chow said. “When we’re racing, if someone is on the blocks, everyone’s standing up cheering. Every other team is sitting down worrying about themselves, and our team is always about the person racing and no one else. We always yell ‘M-A-C’ like three times before someone races and everyone calls us a cult because we are always so involved in everyone else’s races.”
While her time as a Marauder has officially come to a close, the impact Chow leaves on the swimming program will surely remain. It is clear in both the team’s performance and in how Chow speaks of the team that the swimming program at McMaster is truly something unique that deserves to be recognized.