Francis Brennan making waves in the pool

This story was published in the Spring 2023 issue of Total Sports Quinte magazine

Fifteen-year-old Francis Brennan achieved a rare feat for a Belleville Beast swimmer in April when he competed at the Canadian Trials.

Brandon Oates said during his 11 years as the Beast head coach, the club has had about 20 qualifiers for events like junior nationals and Eastern Canadians, but only a handful have qualified for Canadian Trials, which features swimmers with the fastest qualifying times in the nation.

“It’s very significant for him to have this time here, especially at the young age of 15,” Oates said. “He might be on the junior platform right now, but hopefully he can move up to that senior level within the next year or two before he even reaches 18 where that senior national level kicks in.”

Brennan was swimming against and amongst Olympic swimmers like Josh Liendo, Penny Oleksiak and Summer McIntosh, but it certainly didn’t seem to faze him. He had strong performances in the 100-metre freestyle and 200-metre backstroke.

“There were not as many people as I thought there would be,” he said. “I was glad to be there and it was really cool to think that I was swimming with some of the fastest swimmers in Canada. It was also awesome when a few of my teammates showed up to cheer for me on the second day.”

Brennan recalled making a choice between swimming and karate when he was just six. He’s certainly happy with that decision.

“I love it for two reasons; the adrenaline and the people you meet,” he remarked.

Oates said watching Brennan’s progress has been “amazing to see,” especially given the amount of time he missed during COVID shutdowns and restrictions. “I think it’s been difficult for him to manage, going from nothing to now two-time provincial champion and getting his first Canadian Trials.”

Brennan has progressed through the Belleville club’s program, first with the Jr. Beast and has moved up the ranks. He was competing at Ontario Festivals prior to the pandemic.

“He improved at an astonishing rate so went from just being qualified at the provincial level to provincial champion,” Oates said. “I think it’s a lot to happen in a short period of time so now we’re just trying to make sure that we keep him on track and don’t overwhelm him and just get him experience wherever he can and learning whatever he can.”

In fact, Brennan might gain some experience at next year’s Olympic Trials, his coach noted.

“Really this guy has a chance at doing something very special in five years from now and has a shot at making that 2028 (Olympic) team,” Oates remarked.

He was the only 2007-born swimmer in the 100-metre freestyle event at the Canadian Trials.

Oates said the swimmer’s growth has been a huge benefit as he stands about 6-foot-2 with a long wingspan and legs and keeps getting stronger.

“The physicalities aside, his work ethic is unmatched,” Oates said. “He just gets in the water and works every set as hard as he can possibly go. Even in the dryland programs, he’s out there being safe and being conscientious of injury prevention, however he gives it everything he’s got and he just likes to work.”

The benefits of his hard work certainly showed at this year’s provincial championships as he won the 100-metre freestyle (best time in Canada for 15-year-old males) to earn the Canadian Trials berth and also captured gold in the 200-metre backstroke (fourth in Canada).

Brennan also earned silver in the 100-metre backstroke and 200-metre freestyle (fourth in Canada in both), bronze in the 50-metre freestyle (sixth in Canada) and was fourth in both the 1,500-metre freestyle and 400-metre freestyle.

“I was very happy with the results and am very happy that I got to represent my swim team and city,” Brennan said.

Oates said he looks forward to seeing what Brennan can accomplish at the national championships in July following his impressive performance at provincials.

“This was the big stepping stone and we’re going to move forward from there, so pretty exciting times and we’re just trying to take it all in, digest it and recognize his accomplishments and move on to the next goal.”

Oates said Brennan has the desire and will to win to compete at a high level.

“His mindset is phenomenal so when he goes after his goals and he can achieve them then he’s super happy. If he makes a mistake he gets frustrated but he’s really learning how to deal with those failures to make him better. He’s evolved so much in about the last 10 months and it’s just been a steep, steep learning curve. His commitment level is unmatched,” Oates said.

“Ultimately the sky’s the limit for him. He’s still young so we’re not trying to rush him, but we’re trying to expose him to as much as we can without overdoing it. He’s a very special athlete coming out of our Belleville program and I’m excited to see what the future holds.”