Slicing through water with “perfect technique,” Tianni Mai Arseneault belies her past, and races into her future. The 12-year-old had a rough start early in life, but the determined and talented Langford athlete is plunging toward her goal to become an Olympic swimmer while leading her peers in the sport.
Tianni and her two younger brothers were taken from their biological parents five years ago after the children suffered malnutrition and neglect. Living in squalor the siblings’ parents rarely fed them. There had been concerns brought to the government’s attention before but a young girl who babysat blew the final whistle. One night government workers came to the apartment and moved the children out.
Tianni was hospitalized.
Her stomach had shrunk to a size where she could no longer digest food and the eight year-old weighed 27 pounds, about half of a healthy weight.
“We were dying slowly pretty much,” said Tianni. “I’ve been trying to forget all this stuff.”
Five years ago Rheal and Nikki Arseneault took Tianni and her brothers as foster children. The couple had fostered children before but with these three something clicked.
“It just felt right. We fell in love with them, they fell in love with us,” Rheal said.
On July 28, 2011 the couple officially adopted the siblings.
Shortly after moving into her new home, Tianni tried swimming for the first time. She ventured into a pool, slipped on the bottom into the deep end and had to be fished out.
“I almost drowned when I first got in the water,” Tianni said. “But I’ve come a long way now.”
Working her way through the swimming lesson levels, the youngster discovered a love and talent for the sport.
“The lessons part of it felt like therapy,” Rheal said. “Once she actually started competing, that’s when I saw the most change.”
Tianni started swimming competitvely last year with the Island Swimming Association.
She finished first in her first race.
There are born swimmers and made swimmers, explained coach Alex McCoid. He said Tianni is without a doubt the former and could have a long career as a swimmer.
“She was just meant to be in the water,” McCoid said. “The precision and how she moves through the water, her technique is just unbelievable for her age. … She’s going to be a golden child soon.”
When Tianni started at Spencer middle school last fall she was dismayed the school didn’t have a swim team. With the help of teachers along with staff at Island Swimming, Tianni started her campaign with posters and announcements.
The team has five members and competed in three swim meets so far, the latest on Feb. 24. All members of the team did well, beating their personal best times. Tianni showed exceptional talent, taking first place in her three events: 50m backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly.
Tianni said her new home and sport helped her move past the hard times.
“It’s helped me to become more active, it’s made me think about my health,” Tianni said. “I’ve been getting way more confident with myself and being like ‘I can do it.’”
With her life on track and a passion ignited, Tianni has her sights set on the Olympics and a career as a professional swimmer. For the time being, Tianni has two more years at Spencer and plans to help build the swim team before moving on.
Her life experiences have taught her to keep trying.
“Keep going and you can always change if you have to,” Tianni said. “And there’s always a hope.”