On August 20, Varsity Blues swimmer Mahaylia Datars surpassed all odds by completing the Ironman Mont-Tremblant — a 113-kilometre triathlon race — in an incredible 12 hours, 28 minutes, and 25 seconds while posting the fastest swim time among all women competitors and fifth fastest among all competitors. She also finished second in the triathlon overall among all women aged 18 to 24.
As a result of her accomplishment in Mont Tremblant, Datars qualified to compete in the Ironman World Championships held on October 14 in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. At the World Championship, Datars completed the race in 12 hours, 33 minutes, and 18 seconds, finishing 24th among women competitors aged 18 to 24, once again with the fastest swim time among competitors in her age group.
In an interview with The Varsity, Datars sat down to detail her incredible journey as a competitive swimmer for U of T that helped her tackle a challenge that she has dreamed of overcoming since she was a child.
Datars’ passion for competing emerged from her love for swimming, a sport she began learning when she was around six or seven. “Like every other child, I took swimming lessons,” she said. “My mom put me into the local swimming club there, because for her [swimming] was always a [important] thing.”
Furthermore, living in northern Ontario, Datars grew up right near a lake. “It was really important to be a capable swimmer,” Datars said. The lessons at the local club kickstarted her ongoing 15-year swimming journey, as she participated in competitions from grade school to university.
Datars grew up idolizing swimmers like Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky. However, she especially credits the outstanding coaches she had throughout her childhood, who helped her develop into the athlete she is today.
“I’ve been very lucky in that my coaches have always recognized the importance of balancing swimming and life,” Datars said. “They always emphasized academics first in school, followed by hobbies… because happy swimmers are fast swimmers.”
Additionally, Datars described how her Blues teammates created a comfortable setting for her to integrate her swimming philosophy into a more competitive learning environment.
“There are practices that I can think of that I would not have been able to finish… if it weren’t for my teammates,” Datars said. “[They] see you at your worst, [and] they see you at your best. Everyone is motivating each other every practice… and giving [each other] a little extra energy.”
When asked about the endurance she required to complete the Ironman, Datars stressed rhythm as a driving reason for her success. She explained that throughout the race, she struggled to exert additional effort due to her emotional and physical fatigue. Finding a rhythm in the middle of challenges allowed her to progress through the higher stages of the race.
“I think sports in general are far more mental than physical because you put yourself through worse situations in training than you would ever put yourself through in a race,” Datars said.
Datars emphasized how, as an athlete, one reaches a point where it is difficult to exert additional effort since one’s body cannot take it any further. “When those moments happened throughout the race, I’d be like, ‘No, you got this’ — and you just put your head down and fight through it.” She added that the massive crowds at the race also encouraged her to remain positive in the face of adversity.
That approach served Datars well, as she successfully finished all three categories of the race: the 3.9-kilometre swim, 180.2-kilometre bike ride, and 42.2-kilometre run. For Datars, finishing the race was both a relief and an important milestone.
“I don’t think it fully sunk in when I finished it. I was really relieved to have done it, but it was definitely an emotional roller coaster,” Datars explained. “There was a member of my [swim] team there… and my mom was there as well… so I was also emotionally fragile at the point too. But [there] was a feeling of being proud and stuff like that. [I was] like, “Damn, you accomplished that,’ and that’s a pretty incredible [feeling].”
Her experiences as a Blues swimmer not only enabled her to achieve this extraordinary feat but also to pursue success outside of sports in her last year at U of T, where she is double majoring in human biology and nutrition. Datars considers swimming to be a way of life for her since it demands her to be organized. Furthermore, the competitive mentality she has gained as a swimmer also applies to her daily life as a student, where the challenges of achieving her goals further motivate her to achieve success in life.
“I believe that my experience at [U of T] has prepared me to have the motivation and drive, as well as the confidence in myself, to deal with whatever life throws at me,” Datars said. “Whatever the situation is, I know I’m capable of achieving it.”