The cheering from her teammates echoed loud around the pool deck last November as Tessa Cieplucha pushed herself to the finish, seconds ahead of Olympic champion Katinka Hosszu, in the 400-metre individual medley at the International Swimming League championships.
Swimming demands an intense mental focus, and the past year gave the 22-year-old many reasons to feel poised as she navigates training for the upcoming Canadian Olympic trials.
Winning a swim league race, surrounded by Olympians, provided a boost towards the Tokyo Games.
“That whole experience has given me so much more confidence in my swimming and myself, just remembering how to calm my nerves, how I was thinking in the ready room, behind the blocks, and then also how I evaluated and learned from my swims after my race,” she said on an internet call from her hometown of Georgetown, Ont.
“I think that was a great learning experience for me.”
The November race, her second major swim meet, renewed the momentum from her gold medal win at the 2019 Pan Am Games, and also provided an opportunity to calm her nerves while competing against big names.
“Coming off of that I’m even more motivated for all of my training and even all of my races that I’m going to be doing,” she said.
The meet took place at the end of a long year of pool shutdowns and modified, on-land training. But the halt in swimming wasn’t necessarily a bad thing for Cieplucha.
She picked up new cooking recipes and made up for lost time with family. Taking a break from her demanding schedule at the pool gave her body a chance to recover and her mind some time to reflect on her goals as a swimmer.
While competing for the University of Tennessee, she used visualization and debriefing as primary strategies in her mental game.
Confidence took time to flourish in first year while getting accustomed to living away from home, but now in her fifth season with the Volunteers she sees the importance in the experience.
“I think I’ve matured so much as a swimmer and so much as a person,” said Cieplucha. “I think freshman year, I mean everything was so new — it was a very big transition.”
Heading towards the Olympic Trials this May in Toronto, Cieplucha is aiming to maintain her confidence.
“I really think I took a big step in my swimming career [last year],” she said, “And I’m excited to get back into more consistent racing, use what I learned and continue to race people from around the world.”