Cameron McKnight knows a thing about determination.
The 18-year-old Heidelberg resident was the first solo finisher in a 12.5-mile (20km) race around the island of Key West last weekend with a time of four hours and 11 minutes.
This was the second time McKnight took part in the Florida Keys Community College (FKCC) Swim Around Key West race. The first time he competed at the age of 15 he placed second, less than a minute off the winning pace.
This year he was the race’s youngest entrant and also claimed the men’s division.
Some 150 competitors participated in the race in divisions for solo swimmers and relay teams. Swimmers followed a clockwise open water route that circled Key West and included the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.
This is McKnight’s eight year swimming. He joined the Region of Waterloo Swim Club looking to get fit and soon discovered a love for competitive swimming.
“I enjoy the challenge of long-distance swimming,” he explained.
McKnight, now a University of Waterloo student, trains 11 times a week with his coach, Jeff Slater, as part of the school’s swim team.
‘I try to do as much distance swimming as I can, but university swimming doesn’t have a lot of distance swimming events,” said McKnight.
At first McKnight found it difficult to navigate both school and swimming.
“The first year was a little rocky but (Slater) got me to buckle down and we started training really hard. Getting use to going to school and then going to swim practice was a little rough. But I have a good coach that inspires me to do my best.”
McKnight, a bio-medical student, currently works for the Engineering Science Quest, the university’s summer camp for school-aged children. He works with Grade 3 and 4 students creating a science environment where he runs experiments, dissections and takes the kids for tours of the university, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for much else beyond training, eating and sleeping.
“I try to focus on my studies, so I don’t spend a lot of time out, but I do give myself a couple nights to relax and unwind each week.”
Having faced the FKCC race twice, McKnight looks forward to competing in it again.
“I learned a lot during my last race. [Slater] and I worked pretty hard at getting the distances in making sure I was ready for that but we really weren’t ready for the waves and the current. Next time I will be ready and I hope to beat the current record of 3:31.”
McKnight also found the saltwater of the keys to be both a blessing and a curse.
“The saltwater helps because you are more buoyant but at the same time it stings and makes me swell up, so after fours hours of swimming my lips were a little puffy and I couldn’t really talk.”
McKnight still thinks about joining the Canadian Olympic team one day, but right now is focused on his schoolwork and next years FKCC.