Early choice forced by injury the right one for Pan Am medallist

The choice between swimming and gymnastics was a painful one for a young Paige Schultz.

“I was around 11 years old and I had hurt my knee bad,” the now 22-year-old University of Toronto student said.

A repetitive strain injury ultimately led her to make a tough decision, but one she said was good for her.

“I wanted to be like my older sister Kaitlyn [and do gymnastics],” said Schultz, who has been swimming competitively since she was seven years old. “But I didn’t want to have the surgery and deal with the problem the rest of my life. So I stuck with swimming.

“It was a great for me because I had a lot of energy and I loved it.”

And she was going to be good, said sister Kaitlyn Schultz, a swim coach at the Region of Waterloo Swim Club.

“The real turning point was when she was 10 or 11 and I was 14 or 15,” she said. “She cut off all her hair and quit gymnastics to pursue swimming seriously.”

Since then, the younger Schultz has won two bronze medals at the World Student Games, also known as The Universiade, and brought home a bronze medal in the 4x100m freestyle relay from the 2011 Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, while battling food poisoning.

“My teammates were really upbeat and supportive,” said Schultz, adding she lost over 10 pounds in one night. “They knew I couldn’t practice in the morning because I needed rest but they never lost faith in me. They still trusted me to go last and never let me get scared.

“It wasn’t a good 48 hours but thank God for the rest of my relay team.”

Despite some ups and downs, including a 2011-12 season Schultz called “a terrible season for me”, U of T swim team head coach Byron Macdonald said she has what it takes to be one of the country’s top swimmers.

“Canada is a good swimming nation and through her [national] tryouts last July, she came in fifth, a tenth of a second short of fourth,” said Macdonald, who’s coached Schultz for the last four years and watched her swim for more than 10. “The other four women ended up competing and all winning medals.”

Now, Schultz has her eye set on next year’s Pan Am Games in Toronto and even larger stages beyond that.

“My main and top goal is to make the Olympic team,” she said. “That’s where I see myself and that is where I want to be.”

Getting to the top won’t be easy, but the steps needed to get here are clear, Macdonald said.

“All she has to do now is get stronger and stay organized to train smartly and intensely day in and day out,” he said.