Waterloo Region Record

By Ryan Young

Ryan MacKenzie and Michael Li are looking forward to two things when they travel to Australia in December – competing and trying the seafood.

They are among 16 Region of Waterloo Swim Club members heading to Lake Macquarie, Australia, for the International Children's Games that run from Dec. 6 to 11.

The annual event is a recognized member of the International Olympic Committee and features about 1,500 athletes aged 12 to 15 who participate in a variety of sports.

"It's going to be a lot of fun," says MacKenzie, who has never travelled further than the Bahamas. "And there's going to be some good competition, too."

MacKenzie, who turned 15 on Monday, has a good idea about the competition he'll be up against after swimming in the International Children's Games last year in Windsor, Ont.

There will be two notable differences this time for the Grand River Collegiate Institute student. He won't be one of the youngest competitors and the event will be taking place in the Southern Hemisphere for the first time since the Games started in 1968.

MacKenzie, whose best events are in short distance freestyle, began swimming seven years ago with a friend down the street.

"I enjoy it, it's just something fun to do," he says. "I was a really good swimmer when I was younger so it just kind of fit."

"And I've made a huge amount of friends through swimming."

One of those friends is Li, 15, who started his swimming career in China where he is originally from.

His reason for starting in the sport was straightforward. The local pool was close to home. There was one other benefit. "I wanted to learn how not to drown," he says.

Once Li mastered that survival tactic he was swayed to continue the sport because of the challenges it allowed him to pursue.

"I like to physically see the improvement," he explains. "In soccer you can't always tell how much you've improved but in swimming you can see your times getting faster and better."

Li will now get a chance to show how fast he can be in the largest multi-sport youth games in the world.

Athletes from Kitchener and Waterloo first began participating in the Games in 2000.

In 2008, a local Kitchener-Waterloo International Children's Games committee made up of city staff and volunteers was formed to develop a structure and process to send delegations to the Games each year. The committee assists in helping the kids fund-raise and organizing trips details.

Since the committee was formed it has sent athletes to Switzerland, Greece, Scotland, South Korea and other locations.

This year, the athletes going to the Games are Region of Waterloo Swim Club members. The 16 swimmers going to Australia are divided into two delegations of eight representing both Waterloo and Kitchener.

Representing Kitchener will be MacKenzie, Li, Cameron McCuaig, Craig Dawdy, Amy Xie, McKenzie Bender-Jones, Megan Sawatzky and Mya Hamley.

Representing Waterloo will be Aidan Elliot, Disala DeSilva, Braeden Redlich-Stowe, Nicholas Fauteux, Stephanie Zhang, Felicia Nguyen, Kelly Rombough and Sarah Shearer.

In preparation for the games, Li and MacKenzie say they have been training nine times a week.

The payoff should be well worth it.

"I'm looking forward to everything over there," Li says. "But I'm definitely going to try their seafood."