Breanna Hendriks is in a good mood. After several weeks of being out of the water with a case of mononucleosis, she's recently been told that she can get back to training next week.
With a characteristic smile on her face, she tells me of the latest Baron's Court delicacy I have yet to try.
"Have you had the breakfast smoothie?" she asks, as I sat down with her. "It's delicious."
Having been a competitive swimmer since the age of five, it's understandable why this second-year Dino would be antsy after spending the last few weeks on dry land. She has a tattoo on her right ankle of Chinese characters saying "Water" and "Happiness," indicating that one rarely comes without the other.
If Hendriks' happiness can indeed be gauged by her success in the pool, then the past two varsity seasons must have made her as happy as the proverbial clam.
Female rookie of the meet at the 2008 Canadian Interuniversity Sport Championships, Hendriks continued to gain momentum in the following months, culminating in a stellar performance at the 2009 CIS Championships. Capturing gold in the 400-metre and 800-metre freestyle silver in the 200-metre freestyle, and gold in the 4x100-metre and 4x200-metre freestyle relays, Hendriks played a pivotal role in propelling the Dino women to their first ever title as National Champions.
"I didn't expect to swim as well as I did," says Hendriks, "I just went in relaxed, trying to focus on my races and it all just seemed to come together for me."
Renewed emphasis on self-focus is what she claims to be the secret behind her continual improvement in the pool.
"For a long time, I've always had the problem of focusing too much on my competitors and everything going on around me," says Hendriks, "I'd get nervous and I would forget all about my race plan. It was really holding me back."
Through the help of Dinos head coach Mike Blondal and national team sports psychologist Hap Davis, Hendriks focused on developing her mental race preparation.
"I realized I had to make a mental change," said Hendriks, "I learned that thinking too much about what's going to happen in the future, like the outcome of a race, can distract you from the important things you have to focus on in that immediate moment."
Not only have her psychological improvements enabled her to, in her words, "chill out" before races, but Hendriks has also found she is more capable of simply working harder in practices.
"I just felt more dedicated this year," says Hendriks, "I've been lifting heavier weights and I've been training harder than I ever thought I could."
The result is that Hendriks, already reputed amongst her teammates as a doggedly determined trainer -- even, on occasion, giving her male teammates a run for their money -- has become a force to be reckoned with on the Canadian scale and increasingly on the international scene as well. Her performances at the CIS championship this year secured her a spot on the Canadian team going to the 2009 World Student Games in Serbia this August -- her first time on a senior national team.
"Our goal this summer is to get her into the top-50 in the world," says Blondal, Hendriks' coach for the past three years. "After that, there are only three years until the next Olympic trials. We are already positioning ourselves for 2012."
One would think that with Olympic endeavours filling her future, Hendriks would have little room left for dreams of much else. However, she is wisely aware of how short-lived an athletic career can be and is already in the process of planning her post-swimming vocation.
"I want to be an officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police," says Hendriks, who in preparation for the career has recently switched her major to sociology. "It'll have to be after I finish with swimming, of course, but it's something I've always wanted to do."
With final exams looming on the horizon, followed by an intensive three-week training camp in Hawaii in early May, Hendriks has little time to think about the far-off future. But this is exactly the way she wants it to be.
"It's about taking everything one thing at a time," says Hendriks. "One day and one workout at a time."