Bailey Andison was a member of the Canadian national team at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima where she won bronze in the 200m individual medley. She qualified for the team in Lima by finishing third in the 200m IM at the Canadian Trials. She made her Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020 where she was two spots shy of advancing to the 200m individual medley semi finals.
Andison first represented Canada internationally at the 2017 Universiade in Taipei. She swam for the University of Denver from 2015 to 2018 before transferring to University of Indiana. She represented the Hoosiers as a senior while being rewarded with two All-America honours at the 2018 NCAA Championships. She achieved this by finishing sixth in the 400m individual Medley and eighth in the 200m. She now competes in the International Swim League with DC Trident where she hopes to continue their push in their upcoming playoff season.
We caught up with Andison to discuss her Olympic experience and life in Ottawa.
What was it like growing up in Smiths Falls?
Growing up in a small town, there is always a huge sense of community around you no matter what you are doing. Everybody knows everybody, and everyone looks out for each other. My best memories are of the Hershey Chocolate Festival that Smiths Falls was known for. The Hershey plant was our main commodity. I loved it, and it’s a great little town. Everyone should go and visit it if they can.
How did you first get involved with swimming? When did you know that you wanted to pursue it professionally?
My grandfather is Australian, and I loved the water from a really young age. At only 2 years old, I was swimming with no flotation devices. My family would throw loonies and toonies down into the pool and I would go down to dive and get them. The ones that I could get, I could keep. Swimming is big in Australia, and my grandpa noticed my passion and tried to find me a club. I joined The Perth Stingrays, which is a town over. And I stuck with it from when I was 5 to now.
Take us back to 2019, in the Pan Am Games, where you won bronze in the 200M individual medley race. What do you remember from that moment?
It was a huge relief, to be honest. I was going into that meet seeded first, so I was really hoping to grab that gold, but unforeseen circumstances arose. I don’t like to make excuses, but I had some sort of food poisoning or food-related illness just a day before the race, and all I had to eat was an apple. The day of the race, I almost couldn’t keep down a peanut butter sandwich. Getting up behind the blocks, I was feeling weak, but I grinded it out. I got my hand on the wall, though maybe not on the time I wanted. But I brought home some hardware and represented Canada on the podium, and that was a surreal feeling.
What was the atmosphere in Lima like in comparison to the other tournaments you competed in?
It was incredible. Team Canada was just so fun to be around. We had a team room for all athletes, and every night after dinner the room was just packed with people. You could barely get a seat. Everyone was watching whatever event was on that night, some people were playing card games, and everyone was getting to know each other. I met so many cool people from track, and baseball, and even more obscure sports like race flock. It was a really cool atmosphere, everyone was teaching others about their sports, and we were all cheering on Team Canada.
You were awarded the 2020 Brooke and Brittany Henderson Award for youth who exhibit small town values and community pride through perseverance, commitment and dedication to attain their goals. What did it mean to you to be recognized with this award?
It means a lot. Brooke and I are close. The award is named after her because she is so amazing, as a person and as the pinnacle of success. So to be recognized in that way is an honour. Brooke is someone I look up to so much, not only as an athlete, but as a friend.
How about Tokyo 2020? What was it like preparing to actually compete, having to wait due to the postponement, and then finally getting to go this summer?
To be honest, in 2020 I was probably not in the right mindset to be on the Olympic team. My body was capable, but I was freaking out. I pretty much thought myself out of being successful at trials. With the postponement, it was really difficult at first, especially because Canada was one of the first countries to pull out even before the Olympics were actually cancelled. It was really hard to deal with because we didn’t know if or when we we were going to go, and I was still showing up to practice every day in case. That first part of the year was really difficult, trying to feel like you still had a purpose in the sport when it felt like something you had been working towards your whole life had just been ripped away from you.
Going into the later half of 2020 and 2021, I had a change of mindset. I said to myself, I love swimming, I love what I am doing, and I am going to stop focusing so much on results, and focus instead on the moment and the process. I started to have fun, and I sort of returned back to the initial reasons why I started swimming. I went into every practice with a good attitude, and instead of focussing on my times, I focussed on making sure I laughed at every practice, and things started to turn around. I was able to drop a lot of time that year, and going into the Olympic year, I made it on the team.
What was the energy like at Tokyo 2020? What’s a highlight from your experience outside of competing?
The vibes of the games were a little bit different than they usually would have been, but for a lot of us first-timers, we didn’t have anything to compare it to, so everything was still so amazing to us. We didn’t even realize that there were restrictions in place. Tokyo did an amazing job, I felt safe the entire time. Swimmers were able to go into the venue and watch, even if they weren’t racing that day, so there was always noise and a crowd which helped add to the experience. I watched the flag be raised for Margaret Mac Neil’s 100 fly. I never thought in my life that I would get to see and hear the Canadian anthem at the Olympics. I teared up, it just felt so cool. It wasn’t even me who was getting the medal, it was a teammate, but to watch that happen was amazing.
For those Olympic seasonal fans who may not know about it, you currently compete with DC Trident which is 1 of 6 teams in the International Swimming League. How does it feel to be on the top 10 point scorers list?
We happen to be in Italy this year, but we travel all over the world. For people who don’t know alot about swimming, it’s kind of the equivalent of the NHL, MLB, NFL and NBA. There is a draft, then you compete for your team that represents a certain geographical location. You don’t have to be based out of that location, that is just the location you represent. I am on DC Trident, and I had a really good start to season 3. I went in there after the Olympics and was ready to have a good performance… because I didn’t really have the performance I wanted at Tokyo. I was ready to redeem myself, and I was able to do that. I had a ton of fun. It’s not about the time you put up, it’s about getting your hands on the wall and just raising points for your team. We’re into the playoffs in the Netherlands next month, and I am really excited about that.
What is your favourite holiday movie to watch?
I know it’s kind of a cliche, but I really like Elf.
Do you have any special plans for this holiday season with your family?
Hoping to be home for Christmas. I have a meet in Dubai, which ends December 22nd, so I will be flying back to Canada right after that. It means more than it ever has to be home for Christmas this year, because in 2019 I wasn’t able to get back to Canada to spend Christmas with my family because of COVID restrictions and training. I was unable to leave the United States. So I am really looking forward to being around family this holiday season, something that I haven’t had in 2 years. My immediate family has a tradition for getting each other gifts. We each get each other something you want, something you need, something you wear, something you read, and then everyone has to do a good deed that year, and you have to tell the family what the good deed was that you did.
How often do you get back to The Capital Region? When you are home, where are some of your favourite spots to visit in the city of Ottawa?
I was home more this summer leading up to the Olympics than usual. I am usually home about twice a year which can get hard. I always make sure to make it into Ottawa at least once when I get back to the Ottawa valley area. In Smiths Falls, there is a bar in town called Bowie’s that does an open mic night, and they have awesome opportunities for local talent to come in and play on different nights. I always make sure to hit up that spot with my friends. There is also a bakery in town called C’est Tout that I always go to. It’s my morning coffee spot (laughs).
What is one piece of advice you would give to young aspiring swimmers who look up to you and want to follow in your footsteps?
Honestly, nothing matters if you’re not having fun. Everything needs to revolve around enjoying what you are doing, the sport, the process, the nitty gritty of it, even when it gets hard. If you’re not having fun, there is no point. So make sure to go into every practice, every meet, every opportunity that you have within swimming or any sport you are doing, and focus on enjoying yourself. Life’s too short to stick with a sport that isn’t bringing you joy.”
Photography by Sean Sisk