Whitehorse’s MacKenzie Downing has left the pool.
The former Canadian team member and long-time Whitehorse Glacier Bears swimmer has retired from competition, the 26-year-old announced last week.
Downing made the decision to leave the sport after recently failing to secure spots on two national teams and deciding to accept a job with Yukon’s Department of Education for the summer.
“It would have been nice to make it, but this whole year I’ve really struggled with continuing swimming, continuing with the sport,” said Downing. “If I had made it, I would have finished the summer. But I think I’ve been done for a while now and I just finally accepted it.
“If I made it, I definitely would have swam for the summer, but I wouldn’t have swam past that, I don’t think. So it forced me to retire a little bit earlier than I would have. I would have retired at the end of the summer anyway.”
In April, Downing placed fourth in the 200-metre butterfly at the Swimming Canada World Championships Trials in Victoria, B.C.
She was 6.09 seconds behind second place’s Katerin Savard of Quebec, who captured the second and final spot in the 200-metre butterfly on Canada’s team for the FINA World Championships in Barcelona this summer.
A few weeks later she learned she did not make Canada’s team for the 2013 World University Games (a.k.a. the Summer Universiade) this July in Kazan, Russia.
“I didn’t make the team and I went back and forth with my coaches talking about retirement. I guess the main thing was: What do you want to do? What do you want to get out of it? What is your next goal?” said Downing. “There was nothing. I feel like I’ve accomplished everything I could or wanted to. I was just ready to move on. There was nothing left to do.
“(My coaches) said to leave it for a while and then I wasn’t training very much, just getting in the pool and getting wet while I was thinking through this.
“I just didn’t want to be at the pool anymore.”
Accepting a summer job with the Yukon’s Department of Education’s unit for First Nations programs and partnerships was the final stage in her decision process. Beyond this summer, Downing, who just graduated from the University of Victoria with a degree in classics and archeology, is unsure what she’ll do.
“Swimming was my plan for so long. It’s weird now that it’s not my plan anymore,” said Downing. “I’m thinking about going to grad school. I’m going to an archeological field school in the fall for a couple weeks. So I’m still trying to figure it out.
“Stephanie Dixon, the head coach for the (Glacier Bears) club here, wants me to do some camps with the kids and some coaching. I’m sure I’ll be doing some of that and staying involved with the sport.”
Downing competed at the World University Games three times, winning a gold, silver and bronze at the 2007 Games in Bangkok, Thailand.
She set a Canadian record in the 100-metre butterfly at the 2007 Games and was Canada’s flag-bearer at the 2011 Games in Shenzhen, China.
Also in 2007, Downing made the semifinal in the 100-metre butterfly at FINA World Championships in Melbourne, Australia.
“Making the semifinal at the world championship in 2007 was a great experience as well. Getting to represent Canada at big meets internationally was always something I was really proud of and was a great experience.”
Those results helped her get named Outstanding Athlete of the Year by the University of Victoria in 2007 and 2008.
The Whitehorse-born athlete pocketed 21 medals from the Canadian Interuniversity Swimming Championships over her career.
Downing, who registered seven national titles, also competed at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India, cracking the top-10 three times and making two finals in butterfly events.
Last year Downing missed a spot on Canada’s Olympics team by a tenth of a second in the 100-metre butterfly.
“It’s really new for me. With retirement, you don’t want to think about swimming at all. So I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about my career, appreciating it and thinking about it and the things I’ve accomplished.
“Aside from the performances, it’s the connections you make and the experiences you have that are the richest things sport gives back to you.”
Contact Tom Patrick at