By Charlie Pinkerton
It’s impossible to resist calling Danika Éthier a big fish from a small pond.
The swimming sensation graduating from Louis-Riel will be starting her U Sports career with Université Laval next season.
Before her next move, Éthier will compete in a trio of ramping up competitions. She’s taking part in the Summer Ontario Swimming Championships happening this weekend in Scarborough, then the national championships in Montreal in late July and early August, and then finally the Junior Pan Pacific Swimming Championships in Hawaii at the end of August.
All this from a swimmer from Kapuskasing, a town home to fewer than 10,000 residents.
She grew up with her family up in the northern Ontario town that’s about 150 kilometres northwest of Timmins. Éthier’s parents played other sports but weren’t avid swimmers. It was ultimately a babysitter who led her into the pool. Following her older sister as well, Éthier started swimming at five-years-old.
It was around when she was 10 that Éthier began competing in swimming meets outside of Kapuskasing, which eventually led her to realizing she would need a bigger pond to maximize her potential.
Before moving, Éthier said her volunteer coaches at her local club Kapswim “tried to make everything possible” for her, and that her parents and her town banded behind her too.
Before she entered Grade 11, Éthier considered Sudbury and Toronto with her family as other possible destinations for better long-term swimming training. But while Ottawa is further away — it takes roughly 10 hours to drive from Kapuskasing to the nation’s capital — it won out as her destination of choice. There, her cousin’s family could offer her a place to stay, where she’s lived ever since.
“I came to Ottawa to get more of a better opportunity — I guess I could say — in swimming,” Éthier said, “and I think that really helped me.”
Although Louis-Riel doesn’t have a swimming specialization in its suite of sports-études (sports studies) programs, Éthier was still able to benefit from the school’s offerings for athletes in individual sports by having time for things like weight training and yoga worked into her daily school schedule.
Since moving about two years ago, she’s swam with Greater Ottawa Kingfish (GO Kingfish).
While her decision to move was made prior to the pandemic, COVID-19’s impacts may have proven her instincts correct. The pool she swam at in Kapuskasing was closed for large parts of the pandemic. The provincial “high performance” standing afforded to her meant she was able to keep training in Ottawa.
“That really helped a lot,” said Éthier, who still faced pandemic-rendered challenges, like simply being able to find transportation to her training sessions.
Éthier, a breaststroke specialist, had her breakout this year at the Canadian swim trials in Victoria, B.C., which was just a few months after she similarly impressed with a gold medal in the 100-metre event of her signature stroke against many of Ontario’s top junior swimmers in Toronto.
At the trials in Victoria in April, Éthier swam her way to a spot with Swimming Canada’s international development team, placing second among juniors in the 100m breaststroke and 5th among juniors in the 50m.
Despite her strong overall finish, Éthier said her trial performance was in a way disappointing. About a month earlier she set a personal best time in the 100m, which she didn’t crack in Victoria. “I was a bit frustrated, but I was still overall happy with my race,” she said.
Her result still earned her a ticket to Honolulu, Hawaii, where she’ll compete in the Junior Pan Pacific Swimming Championships from August 24 to 27. It’ll be the biggest competition of her career and take place around when she begins university at Laval.
She picked Laval over a few NCAA schools and other Canadian universities in large part because of its coach, Patrick Paradis, who’s coached athletes across every level, including on Canada’s national team.
“I really liked how he’s a bit like the coach I have now in terms of how he thinks about practices and stuff like that,” Éthier said. “He’s also very organized and very helpful, and he just seems really nice and friendly; and that just made it really easy for me to pick (Laval).”
The Louis-Riel and GO Kingfish product says she’s unsure if she’ll return to Ottawa in the future, since she doesn’t know what it may hold. Kapuskasing, on the other hand, will always be a “big part” of her, Éthier says.
Like many supremely talented youngsters, it’s one of Éthier’s dreams to one day compete at the Olympics.
“I’ve always had 2024 (the Paris Summer Olympics) in mind, but I think 2028 (in Los Angeles) is something I’m looking forward to,” she said.
Read More in our 2022 High School Best Series, presented by Louis-Riel Sports-Études, as we tip our caps to top local student-athletes at:
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