By Mike Pearson, News staff
After stepping back from the world of competitive swimming, Ancaster’s Scott Dickens hopes to inspire the next generation of students to achieve their goal, whether it’s an Olympic medal or success in the classroom.
Dickens, 28, returned to Ancaster High School on Friday where he received a hero’s welcome following his improbable return to the Olympic Games in London. After qualifying for the 2012 Games, Dickens said he was inspired by students who believed he could beat his own Canadian record in the men’s 100-metre breaststroke.
Every training day leading up to the games, Dickens wore a T-shirt presented to him by a Grade 12 fitness and leadership class, with the benchmark time of 59.59 seconds. Dickens made local fans proud by becoming the first Canadian to crack the one-minute mark in the 100-metre breaststroke, posting a time in the London heats of 59.87 seconds.
It was one of the defining moments of Dickens’ career, and it made all of the effort, the early mornings and the numerous sacrifices, all worthwhile.
“I felt like I had just qualified for the Olympics again,” Dickens told students during an assembly at Ancaster High. “Doing that was just phenomenal.”
Dickens isn’t sure what propelled him to the finish line in Canadian record time. With 25-metres to go, his arms and legs were numb. His hands were shaking with adrenaline immediately after the event as he began to realize the magnitude of what he had accomplished.
After failing to qualify for the 2008 Olympics by 12 one-hundredths of a second, Dickens pushed himself harder to return back to the 2012 Olympic team. He knew London would be his final international competition.
But heading into his final event, the 4X100-metre freestyle medley relay, Dickens was still just short of a goal he set at age 10: swimming in a final at the Olympic Games.
After the Canadians finished fourth in their qualifying heat, Dickens watched the other teams take their turn. The Canadian team was on the bubble, not knowing whether they would swim again, or if their Olympic run was over.
Then the Canadian time flashed across the London Aquatics Centre scoreboard, showing Canada’s time of three minutes, 34.46 seconds accompanied by the letter Q. Canada had earned the eighth and final spot in the medal race.
When the results became official, Dickens broke down into tears, prompting some curious looks from his teammates. His last international race would be an Olympic final, something he had dreamed about for all of his adult life.
“When you achieve something you’ve dreamed of it’s just wow,” said Dickens. “It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
While he now lives in Vancouver with his wife, Michelle, Dickens said Ancaster will always be his first home. He graduated from Ancaster High before earning a degree in economics from the University of British Columbia. At Ancaster High, Dickens was a star on the school’s water polo team, under the leadership of coach Wilf Reed. He admitted that he was actually cut from the school’s swimming team when other training commitments forced him to miss too many practices.
“We could have had some more school records, but that’s okay,” Dickens joked.
Now that his intense days of training are over, Dickens will continue swimming as a recreational activity. It’s something he’s always loved since he was five years old.
“I’m leaving the sport the same way I started with the sport,” Dickens said.
For now Dickens plans to deliver his inspiring story of determination to as many students as possible while he considers his future career opportunities. As part of the RBC Royal bank Hometown Champions Cheer Tour, he will travel and attend various speaking engagements in the coming months.
On Saturday, Sept. 15, Dickens is appearing at the RBC Ancaster location, 59 Wilson St. W. in the Ancaster Town Plaza from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.