Canadian swimmer Brent Hayden returning to competition after seven years away

VANCOUVER — When three-time Olympian Brent Hayden left competitive swimming seven years ago, he was headed down a dark path.

The Canadian suffered from debilitating back spasms and was struggling with depression as he prepared for the London Olympics in 2012. There were times when he couldn’t walk for days in a row and his psychologist was coming to see him up to twice a week.

Yet during what he calls the worst year of his life, Hayden captured bronze in the 100-metre freestyle in London, marking Canada’s first-ever medal in the event.

Then he retired from competitive swimming.

“For me to win that medal, I think it meant more than most people realized,” Hayden said Wednesday.

“Without a solution to the back spasms and without an end to the spiral I was going through, I just knew I couldn’t be successful moving forward.”

For years, Hayden pursued other endeavours, including photography, swim clinics and launching a clothing line with his wife, Nadina Zarifeh.

Now, the 36-year-old from Mission, B.C., is jumping back in the pool. Hayden announced Wednesday he is coming out of retirement and has already been training in Vancouver for several weeks.

The decision comes after Hayden and Zarifeh spent the summer in Lebanon, where he got back into a pool on a regular basis and rediscovered his passion for swimming.

“I feel like I don’t have anything to prove this time around,” he said. “I’m really just doing this because I fell in love with the sport again and I wanted another chance to fall in love with the sport again in competition.”

Hayden has stayed in shape over the years and, over the summer, he felt his body was stronger than ever.

“I felt powerful, I felt fast. So I started testing it and I realized that my body wasn’t as old as I thought it was. I realized that if this was something I wanted to do, now was the time,” he said.

His decision to return came as a surprise to Swimming Canada’s high performance director, John Atkinson, who said he asked Hayden a lot of questions.

“But it didn’t take long when we met with Brent and talked about his goals, his ambitions, for us to say ‘This is a great thing,’ ” Atkinson said.

Hayden had previously been a key member of Canada’s national swim team, winning gold medals in both the 50- and 100-metre freestyle at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India, and taking first in the 100 at the world aquatic championships in Melbourne, Australia, in 2007.

He competed in both the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing Olympics, but back issues hampered his performance at the latter Games.

Still, Hayden’s former coach, Tom Johnson, had questions about his return.

“The reasons were sound. And they were good enough and interesting enough that, for me, it was a no-brainer to say of course,” said Johnson, head coach of Swimming Canada’s high performance centre in Vancouver.

For more than a month , Hayden has been back in the pool at the University of B.C., training with his old coach and a group of swimmers vying for spots on the Canadian national team.

His fitness was “quite surprising” from the start and he’s improved technically every week, Johnson said.

“He’s well on his way. He’s in good shape,” the coach said. “And really, when you look at it, age is only a number. He hasn’t really lost his step.”

Hayden still holds Canadian records in the 50, 100 and 200-metre freestyle events.

The 47.80 swim that won him a bronze medal at the London Olympics is the same time that earned Belgium’s Pieter Timmers a silver at the Rio Games in 2015.

For now, Hayden is focused on some closer milestones. He wants to qualify for the Olympic trials, then make the Canadian team and earn his spot in Tokyo.

“And then just swim as fast as I can and see what results happen,” he said. “I do believe that a medal is within the realm of possibility, though.”

This time around, Hayden is focusing his energy and training efforts on the 50-metre freestyle. He’ll still train for the 100-metre and 4×100-metre relay events, but believes the 50 is the most realistic race for his body at this stage.

“Power and strength are things that you can continue to develop more easily than a sprint endurance,” he said.

“I think I have a lot of room to surprise a lot of people if I just do what I know I’m capable of.”

Hayden also wants to take on a new role with the Canadian team, sharing his experience with the country’s next generation of swimmers.

“Before, I kind of wanted to lead by example, so I would be a role model on the team through my swims,” he said.

“This time, I want to take more of a leadership role in the room and really try to get our team going that way. … If I can help them overcome any obstacles or get them to the next level or just motivate them to get to the next level, I’m going to do everything I can to do that.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

RCMP have charged a Sylvan Lake man for allegedly defrauding five people of more than $100,000.
Advocate file photo
20-year-old woman killed in collision: Blackfalds RCMP

A 20-year-old woman was killed in a collision on Saturday, says Blackfalds… Continue reading

Patrick Malkin, co-owner of The Granary Kitchen, says he wants the provincial government to lift COVID-19 restrictions that shutdown in-person dining. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer restaurant owner ‘frustrated’ in-person dining restrictions are still in place

Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced the restrictions won’t yet be eased this past Thursday

As of Friday, Alberta has under 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy CDC)
Alberta identifies 573 new COVID-19 cases, 13 deaths on Saturday

There are currently 9,727 active cases of the virus in the province

A firetruck sits in front of a home on Harvey Close in Red Deer Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Firefighters respond to Red Deer fire

Red Deer firefighters responded to a blaze in the north part of… Continue reading

(Courtesy photo)
Red Deer rental prices drop slightly

Renting an apartment in Red Deer became slightly cheaper last month.… Continue reading

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

OTTAWA — Under fluorescent lights, Wendy Muckle surveys the supervised consumption site… Continue reading

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) headquarters Connaught Building is pictured in Ottawa on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020. nbsp; THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Taxpayers’ watchdog sees complaints spike, raising worries about pandemic tax season

OTTAWA — Canada’s taxpayers’ ombudsperson says his office has seen a steep… Continue reading

Wet'suwet'en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

Tensions had reached a boiling point over a natural gas pipeline in… Continue reading

An Uber driver's vehicle is seen after the company launched service, in Vancouver, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Several taxi companies have lost a court bid to run Uber and Lyft off the road in British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Taxi companies lose court bid to quash Uber, Lyft approvals in British Columbia

VANCOUVER — Several Metro Vancouver taxi companies have lost a court bid… Continue reading

Lights on an internet switch illuminate a network cable in an office in Ottawa, Thursday, February 10, 2011. A Federal Court is ordering Canada's internet service providers to block websites for a company that's offering pirated television streaming online. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘Deeply disturbing:’ Nunavut internet still slower, more costly than rest of country

IQALUIT, Nunavut — In Nunavut, it’s not unusual for the internet to… Continue reading

RCMP say missing teen Hope Tivendale has been found. (File photo by Advocate staff)
No foul play suspected after burned body of homeless person found in North Vancouver

VANCOUVER — A burned body, believed to be of a homeless person,… Continue reading

The central zone experienced a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases Thursday, rising from 454 to 508 active cases over the past 24 hours, with 10 people in hospital. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Spartan Bioscience says Health Canada has approved its rapid COVID-19 test

TORONTO — An Ottawa company says it’s received approval from Health Canada… Continue reading

Most Read