By: Monty Mosher
Lise Cinq-Mars was an athletic girl who excelled at figure skating growing up in Ontario.
But before she was even a teenager, she turned her focus to swimming.
It was natural, perhaps.
Her parents, Gilles Cinq-Mars and Charmaine van Schaik, had both been swimmers. Gilles Cinq-Mars swam with Olympic gold medallist Alex Baumann at the Laurentian club in Sudbury.
It turns out it wasn't as natural as all that. Cinq-Mars didn't excel right away, achieving by force of will until her mid-teens.
"I wasn't very good when I was younger, to be honest," she said. "I didn't really get any time standards, or go to any big meets, until I was 15 or 16. It took a little while to get there."
Once the sport came together for her, there was no turning back. Now in her third year with the Dalhousie women's swim team, the 20-year-old Cinq-Mars is the reigning conference champion in the women's 50 and 100-metre butterfly events and looking to add the 200 to her collection at the AUS championships this weekend in Saint John, N.B.
The conference rookie of the year in 2016 is looking to go below the one-minute mark in the 100-metre butterfly and claim the AUS record held by former Dalhousie teammate Phoebe Lenderyou (1:00.14).
She already has all the standards for the butterfly for U Sports nationals. She was eighth in the U Sports 50-metre final last year in 27.64 in Sherbrooke, Que.
"It was the drive to always do better," she said of her constant pursuit in the pool, and out of it. "I'm a very motivated person. When I want to accomplish something, I set my mind on it and I go for it."
That was certainly the case in swimming. She chased provincials, Eastern Canadians, age-group nationals or anything else that required a time. "I didn't give up until I got there."
Dalhousie head coach Lance Cansdale has seen a steady progression in Cinq-Mars over her career.
"I have seen her evolve from a potential-laden swimmer who was intimidated by the big race to a talented swimmer who lifted and scored in the A finals at both the U SPORTS championships, as well as the SNC Canadian Swimming Championships last season," he said.
"A dedicated and conscientious student-athlete, Lise's commitment to training should allow her to continue to improve and, hopefully, set new AUS records in the coming championship season."
At the senior nationals in Montreal last summer, she was fifth in 50 fly and 10th in the 100.
Cinq-Mars is the eldest of five in the family. The others swam in the past, but now compete in paddling.
She has a goal of making an international team, swimming for Canada for the first time. She would like to be part of the U SPORTS team for the World University Games in 2019.
Always with an eye toward medicine, she visited Dalhousie for an open house in her Grade 11 year. She narrowed her university choices to Dalhousie and McGill, wishing to sample life somewhere other than her home province.
McGill appeared to be winning, but she met Cansdale at the Canadian swimming trials and the next thing she knew was headed to the east coast.
She is a butterfly specialist, but does some freestyle. She is better in the short-distance events.
She won the 50 and 100-metre butterfly events in her first AUS championship and made it back-to-back last year.
She has swept all of the butterfly events around the conference this season, making her the top seed in each entering this weekend.
Why the butterfly?
"I don't really know," she said. "When I was with my first swim team when I was quite young we used to do a lot of fly just for fitness. I guess my coaches saw that I was pretty good at it."
The AUS meet serves two purposes. It is a competition unto itself, with the perennial-champion Tigers always looking to win, and also preparation for the U SPORTS meet.
"We will compete as hard as we can and race our best times," she said. "But it's also a stepping stone. You want to see how fast you can go in the AUS and then repeat it at U SPORTS.
"I'd like to be able to go under a minute for my 100 fly and get that AUS record. That's my big goal for this week."
Competition in Saint John is this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The U SPORTS championship runs from Feb. 22-24 at University of Toronto.