“It’s honestly just kind of been a whirlwind.”
Two years may seem like a long time to some but for Shelby Newkirk it feels like they have gone by faster than one of her races.
The 23-year-old para swimmer from Saskatoon has gone from being a national team rookie in 2017 to a bona fide medal contender for the next Paralympic Games after winning silver at the 2019 world championships, which took place in London in September.
“I’m really proud of this (medal) and everything it represents and all the hardship that it took to get to this point,” Newkirk said.
“This year was definitely a challenging year for me and to be able to push through everything and just come out with a shiny piece of bling, it’s really cool.”
It’s also been a long time coming.
Newkirk was supposed to make her world championship debut two years ago in Mexico City but a massive earthquake a few weeks prior to the competition caused so much damage that the championships were first postponed, then outright cancelled.
While Newkirk was disappointed to miss out on a chance to compete against the world’s best, the change of plans may have been a blessing in disguise.
“I swam in Australia last year (at the Para Pan Pacific Championships) so having that as a stepping stone going into worlds and having all these countries there, it was definitely cool to have that stepping stone which I wouldn’t have had in 2017, so I think it’s all worked out for the best,” she said.
Since those cancelled world championships Newkirk has made big strides which include back-to-back Para Swimmer of the Year awards from Swimming Canada in 2017 and 2018.
As her star continues to rise, so too does the level of her competition.
Newkirk’s world record in the S7 100-metre backstroke was broken by American Julia Gaffney in April and another U.S. swimmer, Elizabeth Marks, claimed the gold medal at worlds, beating the Canadian by half a second in the final.
Newkirk doesn’t see the pair as rivals but their successes definitely add fuel to her competitive fire.
“Even though I am always focusing on my own technique and stuff, just to have somebody nearby and be like, OK, let’s see if I can just push past them a little bit,’ I always love doing that,” she said.
“So knowing that there’s so much stiff competition going into Tokyo I know it’s going to be some great racing so I’m really excited to see that and really excited to have other people push me as well.”
Having already qualified for the Tokyo Games, Newkirk’s attention is now on getting herself ready for the world’s biggest stage.
“There’s a lot of big meets this year that I’m really excited about and I’m definitely going to be focusing down my events to focus on the backstroke this year,” she said.
With the experience she’s gained over the last two years, the Paralympic podium appears very much within reach.