Athletes at any level dream about having the chance to represent their country on the world stage, but for Ailish McNulty it's a reality.
At 18, McNulty is among the youngest heading to Szeged, Hungary with CanoeKayak Canada's national team for the Under 23 World Championships, July 17-20. She'll be racing in the four-woman kayak with teammates from across the country, including fellow local Alexa Irvin.
Since splashing around in the swimming area of Lake Banook at age two, McNulty has come a long way. These days, her practice schedule requires her to be at the Mic Mac Amateur Aquatic Club twice a day, six days a week. "Sometimes I wake up," she says, "and I think, 'I don't know if it's worth it today.' But other days I wake up and think, 'This has become something more than myself.'"
A determined full-time athlete, she's also a full-time student at Dalhousie University, having just declared her major after her first year pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree. "Right now, I'm interested in sports psychology because I'm a total basket case while I race," she says. "So I'm just going to tell people, don't do what I do!"
McNulty says she faces both physical and mental challenges being an elite athlete, but nothing has come in handier than her time management skills. On top of everything she has on her plate, for two months in the winter, McNulty lives in Florida to keep up her practices when the local weather is too frigid. "Eight weeks away from home is really tough and you don't realize until you sit down and you're really tired and you just really want a hug," she says.
McNulty knows how fortunate she is to have the support system she has, something she both emotionally and financially couldn't do without.
Sport Nova Scotia offers her some money, depending on her performance in the previous season, but it doesn't come close to covering the costs. Fortunately, McNulty has parents that say her journey has been worth every penny.
"As a parent, watching someone evolve and work hard and start to realize their dreams and realize they're achievable–it's been a great ride and I've loved watching it," says her father, Phil McNulty.
Phil says paddlers coming from Quebec and Ontario often receive significantly more financial support compared to those here in Nova Scotia: "The admiration that I personally hold for all amateur athletes in Canada is very high because I'm witnessing the commitment and the lack of support and what they have to do to overcome to achieve their goals."
"I feel like I've missed out on the normal teenage life," McNulty admits, but remains confident that she is doing something more worthwhile.