Paralympic Hopeful Shelby Newkirk

Shelby Newkirk


At 23 years old, Shelby Newkirk is a force to be reckoned with. Shelby has spent the last nine years dedicating her free time to swimming.

“I train a lot. I’m in the water five days a week and in the gym two days a week. I work with a home coach and I also have a personal trainer. I regularly meet with a nutritionist, and a sports psychologist. I know how important mental training and preparation is. It’s really important to do that.”

For Shelby, everything else takes a back seat to swimming: her friends work around her schedule; her family makes sacrifices to ensure she is doing everything she can to attain her dream. “I can’t take as many classes because of my training schedule, so I’m currently only taking two classes each semester. I am training all the time”.

Shelby has the dedication and passion of an Olympic athlete. And on top of all of that; Shelby is a dystonia thriver. She was diagnosed with dystonia ten years ago in 2010; “at first they thought it was just focal dystonia, but slowly things changed.” Shelby’s dystonia is progressive, which means that she has to deal with her abilities changing over time. “There are things that I used to be able to do that I am not able to do anymore, but I have a great team of medical people here who really help me.”

Being in the moment and having a clear focus – swimming – has been hugely helpful for Shelby and her family; “doing all that I can to succeed in swimming is where I’m focused and where I’m putting all my energy. After that’s finished, we’ll see what comes next!”

When asked what has helped Shelby to gain perspective, Shelby credits her first coach; “She tried to understand it and learned all that she could about how to train and coach someone in my position. She talked about my dystonia in terms of chapters - she said to think of each stage as a chapter of my life. It’s not the whole part of me, but it’s the reality of my life.“

When asked if she had any advice for others dealing with a dystonia diagnosis, Shelby shared: “It’s important to know where you need help. And to realize what you can and cannot do. It’s okay to be sad about it - and then it’s okay to move ahead and live your life.”

See Shelby's bio on Swimming Canada.