Whitehorse swimmer MacKenzie Downing was inducted Wednesday night into the Sports Hall of Fame at the University of Victoria.
In her first season after years of noteworthy success with the Whitehorse Glacier Bears, Downing tried out for and made UVic’s swim team in 2004.
A few years later, she was chosen as flagbearer for Canada’s 350 university athletes attending the international university games in Shenzen, China.
Jordan Cunningham, an MC for Wednesday’s induction ceremony, described Downing as one of the most accomplished athletes from UVic’s swim program.
The audience also heard the achievements of the two other inductees: the university’s seven women who won the national cross-country running
championship in 1987 for the third year in a row; and the 14 men who dominated the university cross country running championships in Canada from 1994 to 1997.
Together the three became the 52nd, 53rd and 54th inductees into the 16-year-history of UVic’s Sports Hall of Fame.
Cunningham recalled Downing’s achievements. He reminded the audience of how she was recognized as an all-Canadian swimmer in each of her five
years as a UVic Vike.
He noted her 17 Canadian Interuniversity Sport metals; one of them a gold in the 100-metre butterfly at the 2007 international university games where she a swam a Canadian record.
Downing also amassed 22 Canada West metals, and was twice selected as the university’s female athlete of the year. She represented Canada at three
international university games, and represented Canada at the 2007 World Championship and the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
In 2009, she was awarded the university’s President’s Cup for athletic and academic achievement.
In a brief video played for the audience before Downing was invited to join her swim coach at the podium, the 31-year-old Whitehorse resident says when
she was growing up she spent loads of time around the pool because her mom was a lifeguard.
She said her mom tells a story of when MacKenzie was 18 months old. Her dad had just gotten her dressed in the change room at the pool. As he was just
starting to get himself changed, MacKenzie bolted, headed straight to the pool and jumped in – clothes and all.
She wasn’t ready to leave.
Downing shared the challenge of going from a celebrated Glacier Bear to a little fish on a university swim team with lots to learn.
But it was her desire to push hard and adapt that propelled Downing’s success, her coach recalled on the video.
“The most impressive thing about MacKenzie was that she was always willing to try something new, because she realized that just being a good athlete in
Canada, or an elite athlete in Canada, isn’t elite in the world,” says coach Peter Vizsolyi. “And so she was always trying to do something to get to that next
level.” It was the 35-year coach of the Vikes swim team and Ryan Clouston, a former teammate of Downing’s, who nominated her for the Hall of Fame.
Clouston described how Downing was dedicated to excellence every day.
“She got to every workout, she got to the gym, and she worked harder than anyone,” Clouston says during the video.
In Wednesday’s acceptance address to the 560 athletes, coaches and guests attending the university’s annual celebration to honour athletes and their
achievement, Downing told the audience in her post-competitive career she’s often asked if she missed it.
She said she doesn’t miss the 5 a.m. practices – not at all. What she thought she might miss the most – the cheering, the podiums and the world travel – is
not what she misses the most.
“The thing I miss the most is my swimming family,” she said. “The bond you form with your teammates is this amazing, unique thing that is extremely rare in your post-sport life. Cherish each other and cherish your time here. Support each other through the hard stuff, because we all know there is lots of hard
stuff, and don’t forget to celebrate the good stuff because you all worked extremely hard to get here.”
In an interview with the Star after returning to Whitehorse yesterday, Downing said while she was swimming, she never gave a lot of thought to her success or the accolades.
After the podium, it was back in the pool, focusing and training for the next test.
Since leaving her competitive career, she has taken the time to look back, to remember championship swims, records.
“That was actually pretty cool,” she said.
Downing acknowledged there are indeed challenges coming from a relatively small community.
At the same time, Whitehorse has incredible facilities for sports, she said.
Downing said small places offer strong support.
Returning to UVic after a successful meet wasn’t like a Glacier Bear returning to Whitehorse with a smile, she said.
“When I came back here, I always felt like I was coming home because people care and it’s just a much more sense of community,” she said.
Downing said she cried the first couple of times she saw the video ahead of Wednesday night, so she was prepared for it.
“But when I was thanking my parents, I was choked up a little,” she said. “They are so incredibly important to the success I had achieved.
“It’s a rare situation where you stand up and thank them for all the stuff they did, driving me to the pool at 5 a.m.....”
The accomplishments of the swimmer from Whitehorse will forevermore hang on the walls of UVic’s Sports Hall of Fame.
Downing joins former Glacier Bear swim coach Stephanie Dixon in UVic’s Sports Hall of Fame. Dixon was inducted in 2016 for her accomplishments as a