When you invite all the top swimmers and coaches in western Canada to come together to race the standards are very high. Over 60 clubs and over 500 swimmers flew in from all over western Canada to the four-day Western Canadian Swimming Championships held at the Commonwealth Games Aquatic Center in Victoria.
The challenge for the Selkirks swimming team was a huge one, and coach Barry Healey set a lofty goal for the meet: try to do better than they have ever done at this very high-level championship as a team. For the past two years the Selkirks have not just grown in numbers at these higher-level meets, but they have been slowly but surely moving up the rankings and breaking club records nearly every competition.
Coming out top of the meet was James Lebuke, 16 years old. This was James’ first western championships and in many cases the first time he had ever raced some of the swimmers, many who he had only read about.
James’ goal was to swim super fast in the early heats and then try and come back and beat those times later in the day. This was going to be a hard task, having just recently set a string of personal best times in January.
First event up was the 200m freestyle. James took up the challenge and dropped nearly 3 seconds off his best time and broke the club senior record. Coming back for the finals, he swam a very smart race and dropped 2 more seconds to win a silver medal in 1.56.94. The club record for this event at the start of the season was 2.05.00
In the 200m breast-stroke, which had nearly all the top swimmers in Canada, James again broke the club record by nearly 5 seconds. Later that day he swam a very technical race and came back strong to win a bronze medal in 2.24. His next race was the 100m freestyle, with a goal of 53 seconds. Both the morning and the evening finals saw James swim 52 second times and pick up another bronze. His 100m freestyle in the final placed him second in Canada in the 16 year old rankings.
In the 400m individual medley, one of the hardest races in swimming and James’ third attempt in the event, he produced a stunning time of 4.40 in the morning and swam to a fifth place finish in the finals.
The 50m freestyle was a rematch of the 100m event, with James swimming one of the best times ever done by a 16-year-old boy in Canada. James posted a time of 23.88 in the morning and won the Silver with a time of 23.68 in the Finals. This ranks him the top 16-year-old in Canada at the moment. In his last event James swam a very fast time of 2.09 in the 200m individual medley, breaking the club record by 3 seconds.
Maggie Manning, 18 and the clubs best ranked para-athlete, also had a very good meet. For Maggie this was the first time that she took the podium, winning silver in both the 100m back-stroke and 100m freestyle. Maggie also made finals in the 200m individual medley, 100m breast-stroke and 100m fly. Maggie is now getting ready to fly to Montreal to meet up with the Canadian Para-Swim Team for a training camp. All Maggie’s swims at the Western Canadian Championships were personal best times and club records.
Hunter Stewardson, 14, was another athlete from the team who had not been to this high level meet before. Having qualified to swim in three events, Hunter was keen to make them all count. Each day was a challenge, how do you race the top three ranked girls in Canada and not get nervous. Just think about her own race and keep focused was the plan, and it paid off with Hunter making finals in all three events. On the last day of her races she stepped up to the next level, making a senior final and becoming only the third girl in the club’s history to qualify for a senior trials time. These standards are used for Olympic trials and world trials meets. Hunter is now ranked the second fastest 14-year-old swimmer in Canada.
In the distance events Molly Fogarty, 16, and Ethan Skofteby, 15, both had great meets, swimming mostly personal best times. Molly placed tenth in the 1500m and 12th in the 800m freestyle. Ethan also placed tenth in the 1500m freestyle 19th in the 800m freestyle and broke the club record for 15-year-old boys.
The Selkirks were the 11th ranked club in B.C. out of over 30 teams by the end of the championships. It was the first time they have ever placed in the top 20 teams in western Canada out of the over 60 teams that shared the event. Both James and Ethan were chosen for provincial teams, James will go to the USA in May and Ethan will swim for Team B.C. in the upcoming provincials meet. The Selkirks soon hit the road with the younger swimmers, going to Kamloops at the end of the month and then to Kelowna in May. Then the club is hosting the spring Division A Regional Championships in May in Salmon Arm.
The Selkirks are always looking for new swimmers at all levels, with practice and competition running 11 months out of the year.
Submitted by Barry Healey