Diving In with Olympian Special Guest, Zsofi Balazs

Although it has been a passion for swimmers ever since Captain Matthew Webb crossed the English Channel in 1875, open water marathon swimming only became an Olympic event in 2008. Since then, only three swimmers have competed for Canada in Olympic open water: Richard Weinberger, Stephanie Horner, and this year’s North Shore Challenge special guest, Zsofi Balazs. Race co-director Josh Reid has a chance to speak with Ms. Balazs, who is almost as excited to be involved in the North Shore Challenge as we are to have her joining us!

1. First of all, Welcome to the North Shore Challenge, and to Norfolk County! Have you visited before? Is there anything you are looking forward to visiting while you are here?

Thank you, I am very excited to be a part of this event. I have not yet been Norfolk County or to Camp Trillium. I have just recently ventured outside the city life, so I am looking forward to seeing what Norfolk has to offer. I hope to ride my motorcycle to the event, so it should make for a great adventure. I am also just generally excited to be part of the North Shore Challenge and having a great time on a hopefully nice weather filled summer day.

2. You have represented Canada on an International scale as both a pool swimmer and an open water swimmer. Can you explain the similarities and differences between both?

 The biggest difference between the two is their environment. Pool swimming is very controlled, while open water can be a bit of a chaos and you have to be ready for the unexpected. I think that’s what I liked the most about open water swimming. When you swim pool, you pretty much know your chances based on rankings and seeding times; but in open water everyone has the same chances to be in the top field or at the back end. In the open water you have to respect the weather and the body of water you swim in; you have to expect the unexpected at all times. Open water swimming fields also have less of a turnover between older members and new up and comers, which allows a unique closeness between everyone involved. I have friends from all over the world because for so long I got to see the same people every few months. Also, sharing Vaseline and getting an elbow in the face from someone makes for stronger friendships….hahahaha . But I stand by the fact that both pool and open water swimming are both more of a team sport than an individual  event; both require team work and support from friends, teammates, coaches, and family.

3. As you know, the North Shore Challenge is a fundraiser for the Trillium Childhood Cancer Foundation. Is this a cause that is close to your heart?

 I believe strongly in all children getting the opportunity to develop friendships, social skills, life skills, and love for sports and activities through camps. If you have ever talked to or have had the chance to talk to a child who has been battling cancer or any other serious illness you know how strong, brave, and so full of wonder they are despite their illness. These children and their families have gone through so much that I think the least we can do is allow them the chance to be part of something as great; and that is what Camp Trillium and the Foundation provides. I think most people have the goal to touch or change someone else’s life in a positive way at some point in their lives; I know I do. After focusing so much on my own swimming and training, looking back, it looks almost selfish; so now I always look for ways to use it for good and try and give back any way I can. So yes, this cause is definitely close to my heart.  

4. Will you be swimming in the North Shore Challenge? What other roles will you have during the event?

While I am honoured to have the opportunity to be JUST even be considered to be part of the event, I will take on as big of a role as the organizers allow me to. I aim to swim in the event, but that is still undecided as of yet. I guess that will just have to be a SURPRISE on the day of! ;0) But whatever my role may end up being, I would like to think that I am very approachable and I am always up for a quick chat so I encourage everyone to come say hi…I promise, I do not bite and I can literally talk about anything.

5. You were Canada’s first female Open Water Marathon swimmer at the Olympics. As young as you are, that makes you a pioneer. Any advice for young swimmers who might be competing in their first open water race at the North Shore Challenge?

HAVE FUN! Your first open water race should always be a fun one. Open water swimming allows for a unique sense of adventure and adrenaline rush. I always viewed open water swimming as a video game; you just have to keep going and see what pops out at you at the next corner then choose your moves accordingly. But seriously…. it’s a full day of water, sunshine and friends; can’t go wrong with that! :0)