As Pan Am Games draw near, Canadian swimmer reflects on how they changed her life | CBC Sports

As Pan Am Games draw near, Canadian swimmer reflects on how they changed her life | CBC Sports


Canadian swimmer Mary-Sophie Harvey among thousands of Pan Am Games athletes in Chile

More than 6,000 athletes – including 473 Canadians – from 41 countries in the Americas and Caribbean will be in Santiago, Chile for the Pan Am Games starting Friday.

Competition runs from Oct. 20 – Nov. 5 with live coverage available on CBC Sports

Devin Heroux · CBC Sports


A man and a boy bicycle in front of a stadium.

A man and a boy on bicycles pass by the National Stadium in Santiago, Chile, which will host the Pan Am opening ceremony on Friday. (AFP via Getty Images)

WARNING: This story contains a discussion of suicide.

So much has changed in the four years since the previous Pan American Games took place in Lima in 2019. In the wake of the pandemic, the world undoubtedly looks and feels different. 

But unlike so many other global sporting spectacles, including the 2020 Tokyo Olympics that was pushed back a year, the Pan Am Games have been relatively unaffected, spared by the timing of the quadrennial event.  

The Games begin Friday in Santiago, Chile, and run through Nov. 5. It’s the first time the world’s third-largest, multi-sport Games are being held in the South American city. Two previous times Santiago had been awarded hosting rights, in 1975 and 1987, but withdrew both times because of financial and political issues. 

This year’s event features 39 sports — 21 of which will serve as Olympic qualifiers — and 61 disciplines. Live coverage is available on, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem.

More than 6,000 athletes from 41 countries in the Americas and Caribbean will be there, 473 from Canada.

Included in that group is Canadian swimmer Mary-Sophie Harvey, who made her Pam Am debut four years ago in Lima, and who has been reflecting on her life since 2019. 

Three people light a torch at a cauldron.

The president of Panam Sports, Chilean Neven Ilic, centre, and Chilean athletes Tomas Gonzalez, left, and Melita Abraham, right, participate in the lighting of the Pan American flame during a ceremony in September. (AFP via Getty Images)

Four years ago, Harvey could have never imagined this for herself.  

Prior to those Games, Harvey was spiraling into darkness. Battling an eating disorder, mental health concerns and a lingering shoulder injury, Harvey had just missed making the senior team heading to the world championships and questioned her future in the sport. 

She was prepared to quit. 

“I started to skip meals. I would barely have one meal a day,” Harvey, 24, said recently. “I made the Pan Am team. I thought I’d be happy about that but afterwards I still felt empty.”

A month before those Lima Games, Harvey says she attempted suicide. She called her mom and went to the hospital to recover. 

“I stayed at her place for a month and then went to Pan Ams,” Harvey said. 

A woman swims a race.

Swimmer Mary-Sophie Harvey is one of 473 Canadians competing in Santiago. (Getty Images)

The swimmer from Trois-Rivières, Que., went to Lima not fully knowing what to expect. What unfolded over the week of competition was a surprise to many, including Harvey. 

She competed in five events and reached the podium in four of them, including two silver medals. Those Games, in a lot of ways, started her healing journey. It became the turning point in her life and swimming career. 

“That meet was a victory. And over the years I’ve learned I need to acknowledge those victories,” Harvey said. 

“It was not like everything was great and everything was fixed but I could get excited about future teams. It gave me hope to still dream about the Olympics.”

Since then, Harvey has competed at a number of international events for Canada, including the delayed Tokyo Olympics, winning 10 medals. 

She took to social media this week before flying to Santiago posting photos and reflections from the last Pan Am Games. 

“I’ve always been really transparent about everything I’ve gone through. I’ve started to be more vulnerable,” Harvey said. “People on the outside think that athletes are robots. We’re humans first and we do have emotions and we do struggle. Everyone has their story and are going through things. We don’t talk about that enough. I don’t mind sharing my experiences if it helps other people.”

Harvey wants to share her journey and the gratitude she has to represent Canada at another international meet. 

“I’m grateful to represent the Maple Leaf still and be in a good place mentally and physically. I’m really happy right now and things are going really well,” she said. “I think that everything life has thrown at me I’ve learned something from and grew from it.”

Harvey and hundreds of other Canadians have started arriving in the Chilean capital, arriving in their rooms at the Athletes Village to Canadian suitcases filled with T-shirts and hoodies and caps and maple leaf swag for the Games. 

Three women show off their medals on a podium.

Harvey, right, on the medal podium in Lima in 2019 with teammate Tessa Camille Cieplucha, centre, and Argentina’s Virginia Bardach Martin, left. (Getty Images)

When Harvey and many more Canadian athletes last took to competition at the Games in Lima one year out from what was supposed to be the Tokyo Olympics, nobody could have ever predicted what was about to unfold some seven months later. 

The COVID-19 pandemic upended the Olympics. It paused life across the globe. Sports seemed so secondary to everything else going on. And all of the momentum Canadian athletes had garnered during the 2019 Pan Ams — finishing third overall in the medal count behind the USA and Brazil — was halted.

Harvey is one of 35 athletes who will be swimming for Canada in Santiago. Four years ago In Lima, Canadians swimmers won 15 medals, including one gold, eight silver and six bronze.

For the swimmers, and hundreds of other athletes wearing red and white competing, this will once again be a chance to qualify and prepare for next summer’s Olympics in Paris. 

“We put so much pressure and importance on results and times. We forget to enjoy experiences,” Harvey said. “Enjoy racing. I just want to step on the block and enjoy racing and take it all in. What more could we ask for?

The Para Pan Am Games run Nov. 17-26 in Santiago.

If you or someone you know is struggling, here’s where to get help:

This guide from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health outlines how to talk about suicide with someone you’re worried about.


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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