Canada’s Wood chooses pool over school

Calgary backstroker decided to leave school to focus on swimming

Russell Wood is swimming with the big dogs as he pursues a spot at Rio in 2016.
Russell Wood is swimming with the big dogs as he pursues a spot at Rio in 2016.

Backstroker Russell Wood is using his time to focus on pursuing the sport he loves rather than the classroom.

Wood, 20, is competing in this week’s Canadian Swimming Trials at the Toronto Pan Am Sport Centre in all three backstroke events: the 50 metre, the 100 metre and the 200 metre.

The top competitors at this year’s trials will look to earn a spot on the Pan Am Games and World Championship teams.

Last September, Wood, with the help of his coach, made the decision to no longer attend the University of Calgary or swim for their varsity team, so he could focus on his international swimming career, particularly the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

“I did university for two years and I was kind of lost,” said Wood, during a phone interview Saturday morning. “I wasn’t really getting what I wanted out of school, but swimming was going really well, so it just seemed like the logical next step for me, not to do school, just to focus on what I really enjoyed doing.”

Although the decision left Calgary Dinos head coach Mike Blondal without his team’s lead swimmer, the coach could tell university wasn’t the right path for the 20-year-old, but remains his coach as Wood prepares to represent Canada internationally.

“You have to be really academically inclined and motivated academically to be able to (attend university and swim varsity),” said Blondal, during a phone interview last Wednesday. “I think Russell realized that his motivation was in the pool.

“I’m his varsity swimming coach and I just didn’t think it was in his best interest.”

The Calgary, Alta., native has used his newfound time to explore interests in the real estate market, compete in the FINA World Cup tour and travel the world. More than anything, it’s allowed Wood to focus on what he loves.

“He would really like to play in the big leagues and swim with the big swimmers and I think that’s really where his focus is,” said Blondal. “Swimming internationally with world class backstrokers, that’s a fairly big motivation for him.”

At last year’s Canadian swimming trials, Wood finished with a gold medal in all three of his individual events and earned spots in the Pan Pacific Championships and Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, where Wood had the best performance of his young career.

“I was pretty excited to make three (individual) finals at Commonwealth’s,” said Wood. “That meet was probably the highlight of my career.”

“He swan 19 races at the Commonwealth Games and he was in the finals of every one of them, including the finals of the relays,” said Blondal. “I thought he did a great job of managing the workload.

“To me, that shows his capacity for racing.”

The backstroker finished fourth in the 4 x 100m medley, fifth in the 4 x 100m freestyle, seventh in the 200m and 50m backstroke, and eighth in the 100m last summer in Scotland and he’s more than ready for this season to begin.

“I’m actually really excited and I think I should score all the times I want (at the trials),” said Wood. “I’m expecting to make the Pan Am’s team and the World’s team.

“So I’m pretty confident.”

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