Shelby Newkirk is not your average fourth-year College of Education student.
She has been nominated to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics as a swimmer, aiming for a podium finish in the 100m backstroke, 100m freestyle and possibly in a relay as well.
“I have always been super competitive, so to be able to be competitive in a sport that I love so much, swimming just gives me the freedom that I feel like I don’t have anywhere else,” Newkirk said.
Newkirk says she enjoys the thrill of racing others while having an equal playing field.
“I use mobility aids full time so when I am in the water, it is pretty much the only time where I get to leave my chair on deck and just swim away,” Newkirk said. “Even though I still have my impairment in the water, it is just me and the water, and I can just focus on what I am doing.”
Newkirk goes into swim practices five days per week, even if it means jumping into the cold pool at six in the morning. Her love for the sport keeps her motivated.
Newkirk has been an active athlete for most of her life, playing volleyball, basketball and other sports, too, not just swimming.
After her diagnosis of dystonia during her early teenage years, she was unable to compete in some sports she had previously.
Newkirk recalls her first day in the water as she still had the ability to swim, realizing that it is what she loved to do and there was no point in looking back.
She is now the current world record holder for the 50m backstroke and looks forward to regaining the records for the 100m backstroke and 200m backstroke, two world records she previously held.
“[Swimming] is a full-time job and if I did not love it, I would not be able to put in the time commitment at all,” Newkirk said. “But I absolutely love everything about it.”
Newkirk has been recognized as the Sask Sport Female Athlete of the Year and Swimming Canada’s Female Para-swimmer for two years in a row. She also recently became a Canadian Athletes Now, also known as CANFund, grant recipient that exists to support female athletes like Newkirk in their journey to the Paralympics.
“Sometimes, I feel like I’m juggling a little too much, but I love everything I am doing, and so I try to make time for it all because if it is something that you love doing, then it does not really feel like a job it just like something you want to do anyway,” Newkirk said.
“I wanted to have something to focus on other than just the Paralympics because if you’re just kind of sitting around thinking all year like ‘I’m going to Tokyo’ … It can kind of get a little bit over-consuming and so I decided to take two classes this year,” Newkirk said.
As an eager student, Newkirk continues her studies in hopes of someday doing consultation services for getting more accessibility in schools, especially with parasports.
“A lot of people that have disabilities don’t get to do gym class and don’t get to do a bunch of these different activities, so I would love to bring what knowledge I have from para sports into schools and just make schools a bit more accessible and easy for kids to go through,” Newkirk said.
Looking ahead, Newkirk hopes to compete in the 2024 Paralympics in Paris after the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo.
“To still be able to come out of it and have a nomination knowing that I could have done better is so exciting,” Newkirk said. “So I know this year what I am going to work towards. There is not much pressure leading up to it to make the team which is nice.”
Photo: Supplied by Shelby Newkirk