Anna Karenina – The Paralympic swimmer’s training manual

September 16, 2016

McAllister knew he was unlikely to peak in Rio so found solace in realist fiction

By Ciarán Breen

Canadian Paralympic Media Consortium

Sept. 16, 2016 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Zack McAllister of Lethbridge, Alta. is a two-time Paralympian but not all Paralympians are made the same. While many of his teammates spent their down time at a pre-Games training camp watching Netflix, on social media and enjoying the small comforts of home before flying to Rio, the Alberta native read 19th century realist fiction.

“It’s a good book. I like it,” said McAllister of Anna Karenina, a novel about Russian aristocracy published by Leo Tolstoy in installments between 1875 and 1877.

The 22-year-old McAllister was one of a quartet of swimmers named late to the Canadian team for the 2016 Paralympics following the International Paralympic Committee’s decision to ban the Russian delegation. Despite admitting to feeling somewhat out shape, he finished eighth in the 100-metre freestyle last Sunday and on Friday morning, qualified for the final of the 50-metre distance.

“I read to entertain myself,” said the S8 classified athlete after his opening swim of the Games. “Sometimes sci-fi, fantasy stuff to escape.”

Regarded as one of the greatest books ever written, Anna Karenina is 864 pages long and tells the story of St. Petersburg Aristocrat Anna Karenina and her tragedy-inducing affair with Count Vronsky.

“I think there’s some good life lessons in that book that I can apply to swimming,” McAllister said. “How to handle yourself, how to pursue happiness, what’s important.”

For McAllister, the first University of Lethbridge swimmer to make an Olympic or Paralympic team in the school’s 75-year history, Rio is his second taste of the Paralympic experience having finished sixth in the 400-metre final in London in 2012.

“The biggest thing for me is that I only knew I was making this team two weeks before I left,” said the triple-Canadian record holder poolside in Brazil. “Based on the times I posted at trials I wasn’t supposed to even make finals, but I’ve done it twice now.”

McAllister had a reduced training schedule during the two months preceding these Games, but is happy to be here representing his country. Four years on from his first Paralympics and a little wiser after his Russian reading, he’s taking the unexpected experience in his stride.

“I still have the same attitude I had back then,” he said. “Living the dream, nothing to lose and just have fun.”