Aly Van Wyck-Smart overcomes hurdles to compete in Tokyo

Canadian Paralympic Committee

August 12, 2021

Young Canadian swimming star handles anxiety and fear


Aly Van Wyck-Smart was inspired by her grandmother to pursue swimming – but there were certain hurdles along the way to becoming a world championship medallist and a medal contender for the Tokyo Paralympic Games.

“I was terrified of the water,” said Van Wyck-Smart, 18, who watched her grandma compete in Masters races in the pool. “My first trials for my team, I actually had to be pulled out of the water because I was struggling so much.”

Those types of setbacks did not deter Van Wyck-Smart, who was born with cerebral palsy. She won a silver medal in the S2 100m backstroke and bronze in the 50m backstroke, both in Canadian and Pan Am record times, at the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships in London, England. 

That performance in the 100 back clinched her berth on the Tokyo team.

“I always had the motivation to become a national team athlete,” said Ontario’s female Para athlete of the year and Swimming Canada’s Breakout Para Swimmer of the Year in 2019. ‘’My fear and anxiety stopped me, but I kept trying and it worked. 

“The team aspect has helped me with my shyness. Having that camaraderie with your friends and teammates is amazing.”
Being involved in sport has provided many more benefits throughout her teenage years. She started swimming at age 10 and entered her first race at 14.

‘’It affects all aspects of your life for good,” she said. ‘’It has given me so much more confidence and made me mature way faster. I’ve always been around sports because of my family, and I always loved competing in things and wanted to be at their level.”

Thanks to the support of programs like NextGen funding, Van Wyck-Smart has negotiated the financial turbulence of being a high-performance athlete. She hopes her amazing success so far can bring attention to assisting athletes like herself who have more serious disabilities.

‘’We really need to support younger kids to get into competitive sport who have more severe impairments because they can achieve high level competition and goals as well.”

Of course, there is always a team behind every successful athlete. Van Wyck-Smart lauds in particular the work of coach Ryan Jones, who learned the ropes of coaching Para swimmers through Van Wyck-Smart, at the Variety Village Club in Toronto.

“What motivates me the most is my support system that is behind me and believes in me.”

For more stories about Canada’s Tokyo 2020 Paralympians, visit

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