Taylor Ruck was bewildered when a journalist asked for an interview at Ponds Forge, Sheffield, in December.
Me? Really? Why? she asked Ben Titley, the head coach at the Swimming Canada High Performance Centre – Ontario, who was overseeing a group of four Canadian women on a short European tour which took in the Swim England Winter Championships and the Lausanne Swimming Cup.
Why indeed? Well, already among Ruck’s collection were two Olympic bronze relay medals from Rio when she was two months past her 16th birthday: [Taylor Made: Ruck Reflects On Rio Joy & Budapest Woe As Commonwealths Loom]
Four world short-course medals – including two golds – followed that December in Windsor, Canada, as she added to a medal cabinet also heaving with a mountain of world junior silverware, 13 in all including nine golds.
And now Ruck, 17, has become the most decorated swimmer at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and will leave Gold Coast with eight medals.
In the process she has written herself into the history books as Canada’s most successful athlete at a single Commonwealth Games, surpassing the seven-strong haul of fellow swimmers Elaine Tanner (1966) and Bill Sawchuk (1978).
Ruck won her eighth medal in the medley relay today, matching Canada’s Ralph Hutton (1966) and Australian swimmers Emily Seebohm (2010) and Susie O’Neill (1998) for the most medals won by an athlete at a single Games. Said Ruck:
“I’m just super excited to win that many medals. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would win this many. This has been a fantastic meet for Team Canada. I’m just so happy to share so many experiences with my best friends.’’
There was gold in the 200m freestyle, silver in the 50m freestyle, 200m backstroke, 4x100m freestyle relay, 4×200-m freestyle relay and 4x100m medley relay and bronze in the 100m backstroke and 100m freestyle.
This is not the first time coach Titley has guided a swimmer to record hauls in Commonwealth waters: among his former charges at Loughborough was Mel Marshall, who claimed a record six medals for England at Melbourne 2006. Beyond retirement, she took up coaching, cut her teeth at City of Derby and watched a young boy called Adam Peaty walk through the door … his freestyle wasn’t up to much … but, wait a minute, look at that breaststroke …
Settling On A Stroke When Any Would Do It
During her chat with SwimVortex, Ruck said : “I have always been a freestyler but sometimes I am a backstroker – it’s weird. For a year I am good at backstroke then I am more of a freestyler and then I am more of a backstroker but now it’s both so I guess that is where I am right now.
“I think freestyle has always been the one. That is where I want to be the best in and improve the most in so I don’t know. Backstroke I am like okay.”
Prescient given what has unfurled at the Games with gold in the 200 free, silvers in the 50 free, 200 back, 4×100 free, 4×200 free relay and 4×100-m medley relay and bronze in the 100 back and 100 free.
Phew, eye-opening stuff and still with her 18th birthday to come at the end of May.
Rewind to a windy day in northern England at the tailend of 2017 and a baffled Ruck joined SwimVortex’s Liz Byrnes to recall her early years, her grandpa, college plans at Stanford and the debt she owes her family and coaches.
Ruck was born in Kelowna, British Columbia, before she moved with her father Colin and mother Sophia to Scottsdale, Arizona, when she was 10 months old, with brother Hunter arriving soon after.
It was there in the desert town – also home to a certain Michael Phelps – that Ruck was first introduced to the water.
“It was with my dad, he used to take me to the community pool and play a lot of games, throw me up and catch me, expose me to the water I guess. So I had a love of it. I was put in lessons so I wouldn’t drown so I guess I have always been in the water. Scottsdale is a desert town with lots of outdoor pools. There is a really good programme: I owe my whole swimming career to my clubs back there.”
The young Ruck tried tennis and basketball, where she discovered an aversion to contact sport, and it was the pool that called and the singularity of the swimmer.
“I like the individual aspect of swimming – you can owe your success to how hard your coaches push you in the pool and how hard you choose to work in the pool. I like how individual it is, racing your time.”
Butterfly was her original stroke – “I don’t know where that came from” – before she took on the IMs and distance freestyle events.
She made rapid progress from 12 to 14 when “I plateaud-ish”, a test of character and one that triggered some soul-searching.
“That was kind of discouraging. I questioned it a little bit – sometimes I still question it, like why do I swim? I feel every swimmer questions that at some point. When I wasn’t getting better as fast as I had been I was a bit discouraged but I guess as long as you keep your head down and get through you’ll be really happy with the outcome. You have just got to stick with it I guess.”
And stuck with it she did, supported by those around her with Ruck quick to acknowledge the role of her parents and coaches. She says: “They were very helpful, they helped me keep my head down. I owe my whole career to them because they helped me so much.
“My parents are so supportive, they are really understanding and tell me do whatever you want as long as it makes you happy. My coach is always saying you swim best when you are happy so I guess happiness always tie in what you love doing most and if you are going to do it to the best of your ability.”
Her first major international was world juniors in Singapore in 2015 where three golds among six medals opened her eyes to what she could achieve, raising her sights in the process.
Then came Rio, her senior international debut and bronze medals in the 4×100 and 4x200m relays followed up in Windsor.
But there was disappointment in 2017 where she missed the cut for the Canadian team for the worlds in Budapest, the US training cycle at odds with the trials.
In May last year, Ruck left her Scottsdale home and moved to the High Performance Centre in Toronto, a wrench for the young athlete on the cusp of her 17th birthday but one that has clearly borne fruit.
“I live with a billet family. It was really hard. I could see a life for myself in both places, I had to choose. I am really happy with my choice because it is better for my swimming and more focused on my swimming.”
Next up is a move to study and train at Stanford University, home to the might of Katie Ledecky – now turned pro, left – and Simone Manuel, right, to name but two.
Citing Michael Phelps as an inspiration in the pool, it is her maternal grandfather Jim who has a special place in Ruck’s heart.
“I look up to my grandpa the most because he carries himself really well. Humble but at the same time confident, I guess those are characteristics I revere and hold in high regard. We visited every summer and winter up until I was 10 and swimming got serious but I definitely spent a lot of time with him.”