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Heyliger hungry after Denmark move

Photograph by Sideya DillBest still to come: Heyliger is hoping to represent Bermuda at the World Championships this summer and next year’s Commonwealth Games

Rebecca Heyliger is competing for Danish swim team Hvidovre as she sets her sights on qualifying for the Fina World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, in July.

Heyliger moved to Copenhagen in October and is training under the watchful eye of Mads Glaesner, her boyfriend — who is also a Hvidovre coach — and believes the switch to Scandinavia has helped reignite her passion for the sport.

The 24-year-old contemplated retiring after being disappointed with her performance at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro last summer, where she placed sixth in her 50 metres freestyle heat in 26.54sec.

After some soul-searching, Heyliger decided that swimming still played an important role in her life and she remains hungry to represent Bermuda.

“Immediately after my race in Rio, I was unsure about my future, mostly because I was disappointed with my swim,” Heyliger said.

“Since then I’ve spent time figuring out what role swimming plays in my life. I’m happy to say that I’m still enjoying it, both training and racing. My immediate goal is to qualify for the World Championships this summer in Budapest.

“I’m planning on attending some qualifiers, including meets in Germany, Denmark and Bermuda. Next year’s Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast [in Australia] is definitely a possibility.”

Since joining Hvidovre, Heyliger has competed at the Danish Short Course Championships, where she set best times in all of her events. She then achieved a national record in the 50 in 25.79 at the Short Course World Championships in Windsor, Ontario, in December before finishing fourth in the 50 at the Malmo Grand Prix in Sweden in January.

“The second week I was in Denmark we had training camp, so I’ve jumped right in with the team,” said Heyliger, who previously swam for Trojan Swim Club at the University of Southern California.

“I really enjoy swimming and training with a team, so training on my own was never the plan. Mads is a coach for Hvidovre, so it’s good having someone who knows about my swimming history and training style on deck.”

Although living in Denmark has been a culture shock for Heyliger, she has embraced her new lifestyle and is learning the language as she looks for work.

“My lifestyle has not changed too much as I’m currently only training for swimming,” she said. “The weather and culture, however, has been a big change.

“I think that because I’ve done so much travelling with swimming and lived abroad for six years that I’m able to adapt to whatever country I’m in. I’m actively learning Danish and I think this will only continue to make life easier.”

Heyliger set a personal best and national-record time of 26.13 to reach the B standard and qualify for the Olympics. However, she admits her expectations were perhaps slightly too high for Rio.

“My experience in Rio definitely made me more hungry,” she said.

“Initially I was disappointed with my swim, although I now recognise that I had to do a lifetime best in order to get to the Olympics.

“Although a best time in Rio was possible and would have been great, statistically improving my time within the couple months from the Bermuda Nationals to Rio was unlikely, as I had already spent years improving just to qualify.

“Had I achieved a best time, perhaps I would have settled on being content with that performance, but because I believe I can do better, I continue to swim to show myself that.”

Despite becoming an Olympian, Heyliger remains a category B-level athlete and is disappointed not to have been granted elite funding by the Bermuda Olympic Association.

“After hitting the qualification time for Rio I was hoping to be moved up from a B athlete to A athlete,” said Heyliger, who is Bermuda’s most experienced swimmer after both Roy-Allan Burch, a two-times Olympian, and Julian Fletcher, who swam in Rio, retired from the sport.

“I applied to be a category A athlete but unfortunately this was not granted.

“At this age the most important thing is to keep enjoying it. It’s important for me to continue swimming because I enjoy representing Bermuda.”