Nicholas Bennett defies the odds to become world champion

Canadian Paralympic Committee

August 05, 2023

Sister coach plays giant role in brother’s rise to the top

The Bennetts

MANCHESTER, England – When he was three years old, Nicholas Bennett was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. There was concern at the time he would never talk, never walk.

Today the 19-year-old is having the time of his life. He walks proudly as a world champion Para swimmer. He provides insightful observations on his swimming prowess. The success comes straight from the source. A supportive and dedicated family which features his coach and sister Haley Bennett, herself at one time a national level swimmer.

Despite a tough and demanding training schedule, Nicholas understands that his sister has supreme confidence in his abilities.

‘’Her coaching has just been infallible,” said Nicholas, after his silver medal Wednesday in the 100-metre breaststroke at the Manchester 2023 Para Swimming World Championships. “It’s monumental how I’ve progressed in just the last year alone. I’ve dropped a second, two seconds on everything I’m doing.

‘’It’s very hard working with her because she kills me basically every day. But I know what she’s doing comes from a place of love.”

Haley has been officially coaching Nicholas full-time for over a year at the Ravensong Aquatic Centre in Qualicum Beach, B.C., although she’s been at his side from the start.

At 23, Haley is immensely proud of her little brother and doesn’t hesitate to agree that it was sport that made a big difference in her brother defying the initial prognosis.

‘’He works super hard every single day,” she said. ‘’Swimming is what he thinks about when he wakes up in the morning and it’s what we do every day. There’s nothing he loves more than racing.’’

And it’s shown this week at the worlds. Nicholas won his first career world title on Monday night with victory in the S14 200m freestyle followed with a silver in the SB14 100 breaststroke with a Canadian and Americas record. He then smashed his national mark in the 200 individual medley for more gold. The 14 class he competes in is for athletes with intellectual impairment.

‘’Swimming has given him a community that’s been supportive and that’s meant the world to him,” continued Haley. ‘’And in terms of therapy when he was younger the sport was a big part of his life. It was really helpful.’’

Nicholas’s only sibling, Haley was originally a synchronized swimmer (now called artistic swimming) then switched to swimming after entering a Swim-O-Thon. Nicholas was in water therapy at age three and entered a competitive program at seven.

“Swimming was a place where he could be really comfortable, so we’re really happy he can incorporate that into his life now,” said Haley.

Nicholas made his first big noise at the 2019 Parapan American Games in Lima with three gold and a silver.

He was named to the 2020 Paralympic Games team, the youngest swimmer on the squad, but Tokyo was delayed a year. In Tokyo, Bennett set Canadian record times in all four events he entered. He was fifth in the 100-m breaststroke, sixth in 200-m freestyle, seventh in the 200-m individual medley, and placed ninth in the men’s 100-m butterfly.

Last year at the Para swimming worlds, Bennett captured silver in the 200-m freestyle and 200-m individual medley and placed fifth in the 100-m breaststroke. For 2022, Bennett was named Swimming Canada’s Breakout Performer of the Year (Paralympic Program).

After capturing his first world title on Monday night, of the four Canadian winners, Nicholas was the most emotional as he struggled to hold back tears in the mixed zone realizing he is now a world champion. On Friday, night, he was so exhausted after his 200 IM final, he needed a chair for the post-race interview.

‘’It took a lot of hard work,” Haley said. ‘’We had our challenges as a family while he was growing up. He had epilepsy and a bunch of other challenges on top of that. Still today he has a breathing coach.

‘’But I wouldn’t change anything about it. He is amazing.’’


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