Tess Routliffe has learned that taking a step back and focusing on her happiness is essential to success in the pool.
That piece of advice is something the 22-year-old swimmer wishes she could tell herself at 17, when she won a silver medal in the 200-metre individual medley (SM7) at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, establishing a new Canadian record at the same time.
The Rio Games were Routliffe’s first Paralympics, and she wasn’t confident enough in her abilities at the time. In hindsight, she needed to focus more on herself.
“As a teenager, I think it’s really easy to start valuing yourself through others’ [opinions],” Routliffe said. “I would try to tell past Tess to focus on what she wanted and what she was going to be proud of. Do what you’re doing for yourself and not anybody else.”
Doing that wasn’t always the case for Routliffe.
Swimming gave her the confidence to be more comfortable in her own skin, especially after being “very shy [and] unspoken, especially in high school, as a teenage girl.”
“Being on a team and getting to know new people brought out a different side of me,” Routliffe said. “Being part of a team with people that I love so much, and people that kind of went through the same thing as me just really brought me the confidence that I needed.”
Coming onto the scene in 2014, the Paralympian competed in the 2015 Parapan Am Games, winning five medals (four gold, one silver). Routliffe also earned three medals at the London 2019 World Para Swimming Championships, which qualified her for the upcoming Tokyo Games.
In the summer, the New Zealand-born Canadian will head overseas much more assured of what she wants to achieve. She hopes to improve her times, and while she does not like to speak her medal goals out loud to avoid undue pressure, Routliffe knows that if she nails the technical side of her swimming, she can land on the podium.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of energy and a lot of motivation put into that race, and so I’m really looking forward to Tokyo,” she said. “And because I think there is a big possibility for best times for me, my goal is the podium.”