Garrett Pulle believes that "hard times are good because you learn from them."
The 19-year-old butterflyer from Markham has had the occasional brush with adversity to drive that lesson home.
One night last November, as he and a friend were leaving the Markham Fair, a gang of bikers from Stoufville appeared from nowhere in the parking lot and assaulted them. "They basically jumped us," he says. "They knocked out seven of my teeth, and the next day I had seven root canals."
Because of that episode, Pulle missed two weeks of training and didn't compete until late December. He then turned around in February to qualify for the Short Course World Championships in Sweden.
"Everything that happens to me makes me so much stronger," says a slightly philosophical and positive-thinking Pulle. "I really believe that."
Pulle got into competitive swimming through a twist of fate at the age of eight. "My dad went to sign me and my sister up for Red Cross swimming lessons, and all the courses were full. So he signed us up for competitive swimming instead. I didn't even know what it was."
Markham nurtured him along as an age grouper until 1995 when he encountered problems of a political nature within the club. "I looked up to a lot of people there and I was quite attached to the club, but I learned that the only people that really stuck by me were my family," he says.
He moved to the Ajax Aquatic Club to train with Paul Meronen, who had a similar sprint programme to that of Garrett's previous coach, Bill O'Toole. But while he was happier in the new surroundings, something was still amiss. "I wasn't enjoying swimming the way I had when I was 10," he remembers. "Certain experiences (at Markham) had taken away my love for the sport. I knew I didn't want to quit, but I definitely needed a break."
Pulle's plan was to take two months off before returning to the pool in June of that year, but instead, he tripped down a flight of stairs and broke his leg. That meant his entire summer season was shot. A setback? No way. Pulle talks of each experience in almost thankful terms.
"That time did me so much good," he explains, "By the end of the summer I was dreaming of swimming every night. You don't know how much you miss something until you don't have it. I just realized how much I needed the sport."
September saw him back on track with renewed drive, and despite the injuries in November, he's having the year of his life.
He says in no uncertain terms, "If I hadn't stopped swimming last year, I wouldn't be where I am now. I've learned so much from everything that has happened to me."
As a national team rookie in Sweden, Pulle distinguished himself by making the final of the 100 butterfly with a personal best time of 53.17. Swimming alongside the best in the world did him good, as he broke the 53 second mark to finish eighth in 52.74, just 3/100 behind teammate Eddie Parenti.
"Gšteborg was the best experience of my life. It's totally different from swimming here. Everything I dreamed of as a kid....that's what it was."
Pulle explains that his impression was based on the atmosphere of the meet and the competition itself, but he pauses before adding, "It was also the pride I felt putting on that Canada track suit. That's something so many people take for granted, but it's a special thing."
Coach Paul Meronen commented that Pulle's performances were "not surprising because of the consistent quality he produces in workouts."
"I couldn't ask for a more dedicated athlete," he says. "And when he returned from Sweden, I was really pleased to hear him say that he didn't feel overwhelmed when he walked on the deck. He has what most elite athletes have, and that's a certain degree of self-confidence based on the work he has put in."
Pulle describes his relationship with Meronen as one of "mutual respect."
"He's helped me so much...he's turned me into a smart swimmer. I didn't know anything about technique before I came to Paul's programme. I was just swimming before. Now I'm swimming and thinking."
At the Ontario Seniors meet Pulle swam a 54.49 100 fly to rank him 22nd in the world.
Says Meronen, "That was pretty outstanding considering he had no particular rest."
Like most elite athletes, Pulle has little time for outside activities, but he acknowledges his girlfriend of two years, Michelle. "She's one of my main inspirations," he says. "The funny thing is, she's never seen me in the water before in her life!" He hopes she'll make it to Canada Games Trials. For the rest, he contents himself with some hip hop, reggae, or R & B music.
With one more OAC credit to finish up next year, Pulle plans to take advantage of the year to continue training with Meronen for Commonwealth Trials. While he says he would prefer to study in Canada, he is keeping an open mind about eventual university opportunities. He wants to study Sciences and is thinking about Chiropractic as a possible career. Another part of him likes to write, and one of his goals is to write a book.
Remembering Gšteborg, Pulle says, "It's funny because I never really got nervous. The key with me if I want to swim well is not to pump myself up because I get too anxious. I have to swim relaxed, not tense, so my technique doesn't fall apart."
Then he adds quietly, "But I'm into the pressure. I feel like the bigger the meet, the better I think I'd do."
With that kind of attitude, he's the kind of athlete we'd like to see more of.