TAMPA, Fla.— Brett Saunders was destined for athletic success before he even took his first steps.
His father, Blair Saunders, was a three-time Canadian National Cycling champion and a member of the 1992 Canadian Olympic Cycling Team.
His mother, Jocelyn Muir-Saunders, was a 1982 World Champion in Marathon Swimming, and went on to win a CIS National Championship with the University of Toronto.
She also swam the 521 nautical miles around Lake Ontario, raising over $250,000 for Multiple Sclerosis, which, for a long-distance solo swim, is the largest-ever for charitable donation.
Needless to say, Saunders was left with no shortage of inspiration from his family to create the ideal path towards a professional athletic career.
Raised by high-performance athletes, Saunders was able to experiment with different sports and determine which one he’d find his true passion in. He has competed in triathlons and played tennis, but it is in swimming that he has found that competitive spark he was searching for.
“I like being a part of a team. Like the Tennis Team, there’s only seven people on the team, in triathlons there’s no Division 1 NCAA for guys yet and there’s not scholarships for them,” he said.
“But for swimming there is a group of about 50 people, men’s and women’s, so you feel like you’re a part of a family and that is the biggest difference.”
Saunders began swimming at the age of three, however his first lesson was not as successful as one would expect.
“I didn’t even jump in, I just cried on the ledge the whole time,” he says, laughing. “But then I got used to it and I’ve been swimming ever since.”
Thankfully, that initial hesitation had no effect on Saunders in the long run. He saw the success that his mother had in the water and was motivated to pursue similar goals.
Despite the support he has received from his family and friends, Saunders has been forced to endure some struggles of his own. He has battled through a significant groin injury and was in a bike accident that briefly put his swimming career on hold.
“I was really disappointed in myself because of my poor performances, so I was really motivated for this year.”
Saunders’ injury has shown no effect on his success in the pool, as he’s posted top times in the 200m Back with 1:48.43 and 200m IM at the 2017 NCAA Division II Championship Festival. He swam a time of 3:51.05 in the that 400m IM, which was not only a top personal time, but also a school record.
Saunders’ commitment does not end in between the pool lanes either. He’s completed over 700 hours of community service. He began the hours because of a school requirement, however has far exceed the expected amount and shows no sign of slowing down.
“I volunteered at a camp for a few weeks and now I work there. I also volunteered at a physical therapy place and I helped set up local 5k’s for my friend who passed away from cancer.”
While Saunders’ skill has found him success in the swimming pool thus far, it will be his heart and determination that will take him to the next level of a professional athletic career. Someday, his parents may not be the only Saunders with champion next to their names.