Rising star Shelby Newkirk made a visit to her former elementary school Wednesday to tell students about her journey from being diagnosed with dystonia, to discovering para swimming, to breaking a world record.

"Although I could never have foreseen it, I'm glad it turned out this way," said Newkirk.

"To be able to come to a place like this and talk to kids, and be able to share my story, was awesome."


Acting principal Sheena Hushagen introduces Shelby Newkirk to a group of elementary students at Silverspring School. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

Newkirk was diagnosed with dystonia, a neurological movement disorder, at 13.

She found freedom when she started swimming, and has excelled, breaking Canadian records. Earlier this month, she set a world record in the S7 100-metre backstroke at the Para-Swimming Canadian Open in Toronto.

Newkirk also attends university full-time. She hopes to be a teacher when she graduates.

"She's so friendly and outgoing and has this great attitude about life and obstacles in her way," said Sheena Hushagen, the acting principal at Silverspring School.

"I think she'd be a great mentor and great person to have in front of students."

Silverspring is a K-8 school with 450 students, and Newkirk held them under her spell during her short talk with a strong message:

"Whatever life throws at you, you can still smile and find something you love. With hard work, anything's possible, really," said Newkirk.


Shelby Newkirk visited her old elementary school to speak to students about her successes as a para swimmer. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

Her next goal is to qualify for and compete in the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, thousands of kilometres away from Silverspring School.

"We must have made a fairly good impression of hard work and perseverance and following your dreams," said Hushagen, adding that Shelby is welcome back anytime.