CALGARY — Caeli McKay doesn’t call herself a wimp anymore because she knows she isn’t.
The Canadian diver has found herself a fighter capable of competing in pain at the highest levels of her sport. The 22-year-old Calgarian dived with damaged ankle ligaments during last summer’s Olympics in Tokyo.
“I never felt like the strongest person,” McKay told The Canadian Press. “I always felt like I could do more, I always felt like I could push harder. I always thought I was a wimp.
“This experience has taught me how strong I am, how much pain I can overcome, and how much mental and emotional pain I can overcome. I definitely have better self-talk.
“I really appreciate now how strong I am.”
While training on dry land at the Olympic trials a year ago, McKay caught her foot between a mat and a box she was jumping from. She badly tore ligaments in her left ankle, which compromised her ability to take off from the 10-meter tower.
She had already qualified to dive with Meaghan Benfeito in Olympic synchronized diving based on the duo’s previous international results.
McKay was unable to compete at the trials for an individual spot at 10 meters, but persevered to dive with Benfeito in Tokyo. They placed fourth, less than a point from the podium.
McKay pushed herself through the Olympic Village on a scooter so as not to weigh down her ankle.
“We didn’t know if she would be able to compete,” said Diving Canada technical director Mitch Geller. “You know what? She competes. She bit leather and they did a fantastic job.”
Just over a year from the date of his injury, McKay’s ankle is still a problem. After finishing second at the national championships last month, McKay will not compete in the four-day FINA Grand Prix which ends in his hometown on Sunday.
The Calgary Grand Prix is a chance for Canadian and international divers to perfect their performance for the world championship from June 17 to July 3 in Budapest, Hungary.
McKay saves his ankle for the world championship.
“I definitely did a number on it at the Olympics. It didn’t heal the right way,” she said. “It was all my choice to get over the pain and I knew the consequences. I knew it was going to be a tougher recovery. I knew it was going to linger and I know I’ll probably never have a normal ankle.
“Right now we’re still starting to investigate more about why I have more pain, but it’s more of a chronic pain situation, more of a kind of tendonitis situation.”
McKay also navigated a common post-Olympic sentiment among athletes: After achieving my life’s dream, why don’t I feel different when others treat me differently?
There is also a “what now?” feeling and wanting to quickly get back to the pool or gym to replace that feeling.
“I’ve been pretty open talking about post-Olympic depression,” McKay said. “I think that’s something that’s really important for athletes to talk about. That’s the highest level you’ll have and you go home. You don’t feel as different as you thought you were going to feel. as an Olympian.
“I was proud to have dived well with one ankle. I was proud to have finished fourth with so little. Of course, it’s heartbreaking, but I was very, very proud of myself.
“I came back and… (people) ask you how you did and they’re either really excited or they’re not. That’s kind of all it is for a few months. what you identify with. For me, It was really difficult. I don’t feel different, but it’s the only important thing that people talk about. I feel like I have the same value as I do. had before the Olympics.
McKay was helped in her post-Olympic phase by her fiancé and former teammate Vincent Riendeau. The two-time Olympian retired after diving in Rio in 2016 and Tokyo.
“Vince was very good to me before the Olympics because he went to Rio and he went through his post-Olympic depression,” McKay said.
“He was kind of warning me. I was like ‘ah, that’s not going to happen’ and then it happened and I was like ‘OK, I have to get back to diving.’ I felt like I needed it because I always felt like I had something to prove since we were fourth.
“He was like ‘no you don’t’ because he made the mistake of going back to diving too soon after the Olympics and not taking the time to have a normal month where you go out to dinner, you see the family, you go on a trip.”
Their wedding is later this summer after the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, and a year and a day after their engagement.
McKay continues to do the mental training and diving visualization that can help compensate for times when his ankle limits his reps on the boards.
“I don’t do 100% of my training. I do 50% and the other 50% I try to do it mentally,” she said. “It’s definitely a tool that I’ve learned to use more effectively. I think it’s going to be a useful tool for me.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 9, 2022.