Two lacrosse players walk across the field together, with an arm around each other.

The unbreakable bond: Athletes and the power of friendship

Faster, higher, stronger

Whether racing on the track, competing on the field, or gliding through the pool, the path toward becoming an Olympic athlete is a monumental journey. In the exciting world of high-level sports, skill, dedication, and determination fuse to create moments of awe-inspiring excellence. But beyond the arena’s spotlight and the gruelling practice sessions, there’s a quieter yet immensely impactful narrative that can emerge—the deep-rooted friendships that often flourish between athletes.

In a time where rivalries often dominate headlines, these stories of friendship remind us that the bond between athletes can thrive beyond medals and records. Built upon mutual respect, triumphant moments, and yes, painful challenges, these friendships rise above competition, revealing the importance of fostering connections, nurturing bonds, and having a whole lot of fun along the way.

Faster, higher, stronger—together

Canadian divers Nathan Zsombor-Murray and Rylan Wiens jumped onto the world scene (and into Canadian record books) in spectacular fashion at last year’s FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary. Their scores through six dives saw them seal the bronze medal with a score of 417.12 in the men’s 10-metre synchro, becoming the first Canadian men’s team to reach the podium in the event. It was an explosive start to the partnership that had seen the two make their competitive debut only weeks earlier at the FINA Diving Grand Prix in Calgary. 2022 was such a successful season for the pair that Aquatics Canada selected them as the Team of the Year.

Though 2022 marked their first year as a synchro partnership, the pair’s history stretches back much further. Friends since first meeting over a decade ago at the 2012 Junior National Championships in Saskatoon, Sask., both divers remember connecting right from the start.

“We’ve always been close friends and got along well,” says 20-year-old Zsombor-Murray. “Throughout the years, we have been to more and more competitions together and have formed an even stronger friendship.”

It was that enduring friendship, mutual respect, and encouragement that cheered on the young divers during the 2020 Olympics, a time when family and friends were unable to attend due to COVID restrictions.

“Because Rylan and I had our events on the last few days of the two weeks we were there, we were the last to depart. So it was just us two,” recalls Zsombor-Murray.

Wiens, 21, remembers their joint encouragement during that time: “By the end, it was only me and Nathan. We had each other’s backs and were very supportive of each other even though we weren’t yet synchro partners.”

Canadian diver Nathan Zsombor-Murray dives into the pool at the  Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Canadian diver Nathan Zsombor-Murray competes in the Men’s 10m Platform preliminary round during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Photo: Andrew Lahodynskyj/COC.

An evolving partnership

Zsombor-Murray and Wiens don’t just match their movements but share their perseverance, discipline, and sense of humour—qualities that have contributed to their connection both in and out of the pool, first as competitors, and during their partnership.

Zsombor-Murray cites their common goals and interests as part of their bond and credits Wiens with helping him learn not to hold back and to confront his fears.

Wiens is equally complimentary of his partner. “I think the best lesson I’ve learned from Nathan is to keep fighting until the event is over,” he says. “We don’t always dive perfectly throughout a competition, however, it’s never over ’til it’s over, and we really keep pushing right until the last dive. We always have a fist bump before every dive and then we get dialled in.”

Wiens shares that the qualities he values in exceptional friends and teammates include being goal-oriented, approachable, and enjoyable to be around—qualities that foster an environment where individuals feel valued, supported, and motivated to excel together. “We have a lot of fun on the towers, and diving with Nathan makes those difficult days a little easier,” he says. “Nathan has to be one of the hardest workers I know, and it inspires me to work harder towards my own goals.”

Wiens is thankful for the lasting friendships that he’s developed through sports and diving. “I have friends from across the country and the world thanks to diving, however, sport in general has allowed me to meet people and get to know them in a fun environment and find people with similar interests.”

Canadian diver Rylan Wiens dives into the pool at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Canadian diver Rylan Wiens competes in the men’s 10m platform preliminary round during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Photo: Andrew Lahodynskyj/COC.

Road to the Olympics

Earlier this year, the pair secured seventh position in the second phase of the World Aquatics Diving World Cup in Montreal. With their sights set on progress, they directed their efforts towards improvement throughout the rest of the 2023 season. Unfortunately, an injury forced Wiens to withdraw from this summer’s 2023 World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka, Japan. Despite the temporary setback, the duo continues to stride together towards their shared goal of representing Team Canada in synchronized diving at the 2024 Olympic Games.

With Wiens recuperating, Zsombor-Murray’s seventh-place finish in Japan with a final score of 468.00 points in the individual 10-metre platform secured a spot for Canada in that event at next year’s games. At the beginning of August, Zsombor-Murray followed up his impressive showing at the championships with a fourth-place finish in the individual 10-metre platform at the World Cup Super Final in Berlin, Germany.

With the 2024 Paris Olympics less than a year away, Zsombor-Murray and Wiens are focused on their partnership, intense training, and drive for the podium—while still making time for some fun, of course.

“I like hiking, biking, swimming, spending time up north at the cabin, and enjoying the outdoors,” says Zsombor-Murray, who lives in Pointe-Claire, Que. Wiens is also a fan of the rejuvenating power of the outdoors, with motorcycling, snowmobiling, wakeboarding, and downhill skiing as some of his favourite pursuits. “My form of relaxation outside of the pool is to stay busy and stay active,” says Wiens. “Anything that involves getting my heart pumping is right up my alley.”

Wiens shared his enthusiasm for the outdoors with Zsombor-Murray when they were training in Wiens’ hometown of Saskatoon. “We both enjoy being active and I know we both love getting that adrenaline rush. I was able to get him on the snowmobiles and take him for a trip to show him how we do it here in Saskatchewan in the winter.”

From childhood competitors and new acquaintances to successful partners, Zsombor-Murray and Wiens’ friendship reflects commitment, understanding, and shared aspirations, and reminds us that the bonds we forge can be as strong as the achievements we attain, both in sports and in life.

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