Story by UBC Alumni Affairs – Trek Online July/August 2012
Martha McCabe has always had an affinity for water and sporting competition. Originally from Toronto, she and her siblings would hold the “McCabe Olympics” at their summer cottage in Lakefield, Ontario.
Now her goal of competing in the Olympics is a reality and the possibility of winning a medal is within her reach; Martha is in London representing Canada in the 200 metre breaststroke.
Martha credits her family – in particular her brother, Jeff – for encouraging her at age 12 to swim competitively. She’s been a member of the Canadian National Team since 2009 and was named Canadian Interuniversity Sport Swimmer of the Year in 2010. She represented Canada in the 2009 and 2011 World Championships as well as the 2010 Commonwealth Games and Pan Pacific Games. In 2011, Martha won bronze in the 200-metre breaststroke at the World Championships in Shanghai – a highlight of her swimming career to date.
When she’s not in competition mode, Martha can be found playing hockey, completing triathlons, travelling, drinking German beer, being goofy, laughing a lot, and spending time at her family’s cottage in Lakefield, where it all began.
What is your most prized possession?
A pair of 2010 HBC Olympic mitts. I wear them before every big swim meet when I’m walking out for my race. They’ve travelled all around the world with me to some pretty exciting events.
Who was your childhood hero?
I looked up to Canadian athlete superstars like Donovan Bailey and Simon Whitfield, but really, in my daily life as a kid, my heroes were my three older siblings. I wanted to be just like them so emulated a lot of what they did, making me who I am today.
Describe the place you most like to spend time.
My cottage in Lakefield, Ontario. I love heading up there with friends and family in the summer time. Hanging out in the sunshine all day and cooling down by jumping in the lake every so often.
What or who makes you laugh out loud?
Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn and Zack Galifianakis. People with accents, certain TV shows – Gloria on Modern Family is a mix of both, so especially her. I hang around funny people, so most of my friends. My three siblings are some of the funniest people I know.
What’s the most important lesson you ever learned?
To never take anything for granted, and always take notice of everyone around me who’s helping me get to where I need to be and make sure they know how grateful I am for their support.
What’s your idea of the perfect day?
With a big sleep behind me, I wake up to a sunny summer day and do a fast but easy-feeling triathlon, followed by a giant brunch with some family and friends. Head to a beach or lake and hang out. Later have a BBQ with a few beers and a campfire!
What was your nickname at school?
Mar, Marty… nothing too crazy. My current coach started calling me Smarty shortly after I started swimming with him, because I can be a bit of a smart ass from time to time.
What would be the title of your biography?
Too Many Ideas, Too Little Time
If a genie granted you one wish, what would it be?
For a million more wishes, of course!
What item have you owned for the longest time?
I’m not sure, but I’m going to guess my Pink Panther stuffed animal. I got it when it was taller than I was, and it’s definitely still kicking around the house but is much, much smaller than I am now.
What is your latest purchase?
A pair of shoes. I buy too many, too often, but at least I use most of them… usually.
What would you like your epitaph to say?
A genuine friend who knew how to laugh lots, have fun and put a smile on your face
If you could invent something, what would it be?
A teleporting machine, so it would be a lot easier for me to visit my family and friends around the world
What are you afraid of?
Birds! I’m ok with the small ones who stay away, but big crows and seagulls flying too low really gross me out.
Name the skill or talent you would most like to have.
I guess it would be pretty fun to be more artsy – maybe a really good painter or something.
Which three pieces of music would you take to that desert island?
Simon Garfunkel: “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)”
Eminem: “The Real Slim Shady”
Blink 182: “Down”
What is your pet peeve?
When people don’t take responsibility for their actions or surroundings. If you want something good to happen around you, you have to step up and make it happen. There’s bad luck, we all run into that, but sooner or later if you really work at something, great things will happen.
Describe a day’s food intake while training.
Before my AM swim a banana, and afterwards two eggs with toast, tomatoes, spinach, avocados, onion, and ham. My weights session is followed by a fruit smoothie and a sandwich. After my final swim of the day I eat a big dinner. My favourite is butter chicken, with rice, naan bread and a salad.
What advice would you give to a young swimmer with Olympic hopes?
Work hard and always think of new ways of approaching your dream. Hard work will get you far, but smart work will get you much farther.
If you weren’t a swimmer, what sport would you be active in and why?
Track or triathlon. I’m more of an individual sport kind of gal. I’ve always had a bit of a knack for running. Running is nice because you don’t stare at a black line at the bottom of a pool for hours on end – the change of scenery is a treat.
If you get the chance, what do you most want to see in London?
Usain Bolt run the 100m final. I doubt I’ll be able to get to this event, given it will be one of the most popular events of the entire games. Bolt knows how to put on a show not only with how fast he runs, but by sharing his personality too.