A trio of athletes who’ve made a splash while representing London, Ont., are the latest to receive one of the highest honours possible for swimmers in the Forest City.
The ceremony was held at the Canada Games Aquatic Centre on Wonderland Road, a facility that holds a special place in the hearts of all three inductees.
An Olympic champion, Mac Neil made her first appearance at the international competition last year during the Tokyo Games.
Mac Neil won gold in the 100m butterfly, silver with the 4x100m freestyle relay team and bronze with the 4x100m medley relay team. She would later be named the Best Female Athlete of Tokyo 2020 by the Association of National Olympic Committees.
Mac Neil holds the Americas record in 100m butterfly with time of 55.59 seconds, which she set while achieving her gold medal. In December 2021, she also set the world record in 50m backstroke with a time of 25.27 seconds during the FINA World Swimming Championships.
“It means a lot to me,” Mac Neil told Global News during Friday’s induction ceremony.
“Every coach in this room helped me get to where I am, so just for them to see their work pay off as well as mine, it means a lot.”
As for the young swimmers hoping to follow in her footsteps, Mac Neil says it’s important to remember that it’s not a linear journey.
“It’s just about loving the sport and, I’ve learned this year, not constantly having to have a goal in mind that drives you, it should come internally,” Mac Neil added.
An organ transplant recipient, Best has likely spent as much time swimming as she has advocating for those in her shoes.
Last year, she completed a 52-kilometre swim across Lake Ontario to raise money for organ transplant recipients.
After the 18-hour, 36-minute endeavour was completed, a GoFundMe campaign attached to her swim raised more than $125,000 to support the purchase of new equipment at London Health Sciences Centre.
“It felt incredible to be recognized for the efforts that I’ve been putting in, not just in the aquatic world, but for the cause that means so much to me, which is organ donation,” Best said of her place along the Aquatic Wall of Fame, adding that she wouldn’t be on the wall were it not for her swim coach Mackenzie Salmon.
Among all of her achievements, Best says she’s most proud about serving as an inspiration for those receiving organ transplants.
“I’ve been in some dark places in my life and been through some challenges and I know what it means to have somebody to inspire and to lift me up,” Best said.
“If I can be that source for somebody, even one person, that just makes me feel fulfilled.”
During her time at Western University, Huddle became one of the most highly decorated swimmers in Mustang history. Her resume includes a gold medal in 50m freestyle at the 2019 U Sports Odlum Brown Swimming Championships, as well as a gold medal in 100m freestyle at the 2018 OUA Swimming Championships.
Huddle describes feeling a sense of disbelief when she learned she would be inducted onto the Wall of Fame, adding that Mac Neil and Best “have achieved so much and are just incredible role models.”
“It’s hitting home a little bit more that maybe I do belong on the wall and it’s such an honour,” Huddle said.
Huddle says she’s had a lot of support from the people in her life — including Paul Midgely, who was her coach at Western — who have reminded her that she belongs.
She hopes swimmers looking up to her will carry a mantra she often repeated to herself during her swimming career: “Why not me?”
“Paul saw that in me first, this potential that I had that I couldn’t see beyond how sore my muscles were or how hard training was,” Huddle said.
“All kids who are swimming and in other sports, in arts, whatever it is that you are setting your mind to, ask, ‘Why not’?”
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