Canadian swimmer Taylor Ruck enjoying success on the road to recovery from eating disorder

Taylor Ruck says she's excited and energized again and can't wait to get down to business in the lead-up to the world championships this summer in Budapest.

21-year-old feeling happy, healthy after 2-year battle

Canada's Taylor Ruck after winning the 200-yard freestyle at the NCAA championships last month. (Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

Canadian swimmer Taylor Ruck has been beaming every time she has shown up this week at Saanich Commonwealth Place in Victoria, B.C., site of the national trials. Her smile can't be missed, she's full of energy. There's a sparkle in her eyes again. 

And there is renewed strength in her swimming.

Ruck, after competing in four events this week including the 100m, 200m backstroke and the 100m and 200m freestyle events, has qualified for the Canadian world championship team heading to Budapest this summer. This after capturing her first individual NCAA championship win last month in the 200-yard freestyle.

"I'm grateful to say I'm happier than ever and grateful to be sharing these experiences with my teammates," she told CBC Sports on Sunday, the final night of competition. "Just happy to be here. Happy to see everybody on deck. Performances were fine. Times weren't really my strong suit here but I feel I did the job. I got on the worlds team."

Ruck, along with thirty-one others, have been named to Canada's team for the world following the week-long trials — 18 women and 14 men. Her Tokyo Olympic teammates Penny Oleksiak, Kylie Masse, Maggie Mac Neil and Summer McIntosh are among medal contenders for Canada at the event, which runs June 18-July 3.

It wasn't all that long ago that Ruck, 21, from Kelowna, B.C., had a hard time finding happiness in just about anything she did. 

She was fully in the grips of an eating disorder and spiraling. It started in 2018, following extraordinary success. Ruck won a record eight medals at the 2018 Commonwealth Games — that was preceded by winning two relay medals at her first Olympics at 16 years old in Rio. 

Ruck competes in the women's 200m backstroke semifinal during the Tokyo Olympics last July. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Hard 2 years

She was on a path to greatness in the pool. That's when Ruck says she started obsessing over everything she put in her body. From 2018 until 2020 she suffered in silence, quietly wilting away. 

"There's no energy to do a lot. It impacts your mood. There's a spiral that happens. I lost myself personally for a while," Ruck said. "I hope anyone going through this has help and I pray for them and hope the best for them that they find support."

Last year, during the national trials ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, Ruck was underperforming. By that point she was seeking help and somewhat on a path to recovery. But after years of depletion, she was still not at full strength. 

"It was definitely a hard two years. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the best," she said. 

In Tokyo, Ruck only swam in the preliminary heats for the Canadian women's 4x100m freestyle relay and the preliminary backstroke leg on the women's medley relay. She would end up getting a medal in both events because of her participation. 

"I would say during the Olympics I was coming out of my lowest point, which I'm very grateful to say," she said. "I think this whole year has been about building up strength. Since last January I've been building up. It takes a while to get back from an eating disorder."

For a swimmer who was seemingly on a meteoric rise from Rio to the Commonwealth Games into what was supposed to be a breakout Games in Tokyo, not continuing that upward trajectory was disappointing for Ruck. 

"It was always a fear of mine growing up in swimming, being inconsistent. I don't know if it was a self-fulfilling prophecy or something but it was something that happened. I was inconsistent and it confirmed my worst fear," she said. 

In the wake of the Tokyo Olympics Ruck shared her story publicly for the first time — the sometimes shy swimmer wasn't really sure about doing it but said it helped her on her path to recovery. 

Ruck, centre, with her teammates in Tokyo. It was an emotional reunion for all at the swim trials in Victoria this past week. (Getty Images)

Emotional reunion

"I just wanted to share what I was going through. I'm not really a public speaker on a lot of things. It scared me a lot but it was an important thing to do to be heard," she said. "So many people reached out. It was so heartwarming to hear from everyone and so gut-wrenching to hear from people going through it too.

"I knew it was a problem but hearing all of that. It does get better and there is support."

When Ruck arrived in Victoria this past week ahead of competition, it was the first time she was seeing her teammates since Tokyo. It was a joyous and emotional reunion with a group of swimmers she's been through a lot with. In the last eight months a lot has changed in her world and she's been feeling stronger and healthier than she has for quite some time. 

"When I came to their hotel before the meet started I gave everyone big hugs. I started crying once I saw everyone," Ruck said. "I had tears. It was so heartwarming to see everyone because it's been since Tokyo."

Her journey to recovery continues and Ruck isn't taking anything for granted. But she's excited and energized again — and can't wait to get down to business in the lead-up to worlds this summer, and then once again compete for Canada on the international stage.

"A lot of coaches and people on deck have told me this week they've noticed a difference in me from last year," she said. "I'm happier and happier. I'm just so grateful to be able to say that."

WATCH l Josh Liendo sets record in 50m free:

Canada's Joshua Liendo sets national record in 50m freestyle

4 months ago
Duration 0:59
Joshua Liendo breaks the Canadian record in the 50m freestyle with a time of 21.63 seconds and qualifies for the FINA world swimming championships.

Liendo breaks 13-year-old national record

Meanwhile, on the final night of swimming at the national trials, 19-year-old Josh Liendo saved his best for last. He broke a 13-year-old record held in the men's 50m freestyle event, posting a time 21.63 seconds to win the race. 

It was the second-fastest time in this event in the world this year. 

"I still have stuff to work on. Getting that time right there is really motivating but I'm hungry to get better than that," Liendo said. "I am proud of myself."

Shelby Newkirk broke the S6 Canadian record time of 1:20.76 in the para multi-class 100m backstroke event. It was Newkirk's fifth Canadian record of the meet. Kelsey Wog won the 200m breaststroke in two minutes, 24.87 seconds which was well under the FINA qualifying time.  Kayla Sanchez won the women's 50m freestyle event, qualifying under the FINA time standard in 24.93.

WATCH l Shelby Newkirk breaks record in S6 100m backstroke:

Shelby Newkirk breaks Canadian record in 100m backstroke S6

4 months ago
Duration 1:55
Shelby Newkirk sets a new national record in the women's 100m backstroke S6 with a time of 1:20.76.


Devin Heroux

CBC reporter

Devin Heroux reports for CBC News and Sports. He is now based in Toronto, after working first for the CBC in Calgary and Saskatoon.

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