HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
A single conversation between a coach and a parent several years ago has gone a long way to bringing the Nepean-Kanata Barracudas to the forefront of swimming in Canada.
“In either 2017 or 2018, we looked at what are the biggest stumbling blocks to Canadian swimmers,” Barracudas’ head coach Scott Faithfull said in a recent phone interview.
“One is finances. We go to meets and have to fly all over. And it hit me talking to one parent with two swimmers that it cost $25,000 to $30,000 to attend international meets. I couldn’t afford that for my kids.
“We had help from our board (of directors). We refocused delivery of our programs from pre-competitive to international. What we found was we were being fair to all swimmers and ignoring the top end; they would take care of themselves.”
Transportation and accommodation costs are big items on an athletes’/parents’ competition budget not only in swimming, but also all sports. It can play a major role in determining how far an athlete can advance in a sport.
The Barracudas’ staff and coaches worked in conjunction with the new board of directors, which allowed them to handle the club operations. They found a solution that has helped swimmers focus more on training and less on fund raising. This has allowed the Barracudas to challenge the best clubs at major swim meets.
Funded by swimmer fees, fund raising dollars, grants and the work of its sponsorship team, the club has developed a financial structure to assist its competitive swimmers. The club covers 25 to 50 per cent of the accommodation costs for a regional-level swimmer, and 50 to 75 per cent for a provincial-level swimmer.
If a swimmer is competing at the national level, the Barracudas will cover 75 to 100 per cent of his or her accommodation and transportation expenses.
“It’s a way to help parents out,” Faithfull added.
And the trickle-down effect is the athletes can train regularly and attend the necessary meets to gauge their progress and showcase their talents and potential.
“It’s a big undertaking. It has worked well other than the COVID years,” he continued. “One of the biggest things is the board of directors spearheaded this and worked its way through it.”
The Barracudas have about 200 members in their competitive swim program. The club also offers four 10-week non-competitive programs. Faithfull said the club’s programs are full for the 2022-23 season and a waiting list has been established.
The Barracudas’ plan to put more emphasis on the competitive swim program showed positive results in 2022 as the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic weakened.
During the 2021-22 season, the Barracudas sent its largest-ever team to the Eastern regional championships, won multiple medals and broke club records at Ontario, Eastern Canadian and Canadian championships, had swimmers place high on national rankings and saw Faithfull and swimmer Julie Brousseau named to Canada’s team for the Junior Pan-Pacific championships in August in Honolulu, Hawaii.
As a club, the Barracudas placed an impressive third overall at the Ontario and the Eastern Canadian championships. The Barracudas also were ninth overall at the Canadian junior/senior championships out of 132 clubs.
“It has been more than 20 years before I can remember us being in the top five at Eastern Canadians,” Faithfull said. “It’s the same for the Ontario championships.
“It (club’s new focus) has opened avenues for us. The results we are seeing are because of that. We’re ready and willing to do what we have to do. This has really helped us expand our vision of what we are able to do.”
Brousseau is an honours student at Nepean High School who joined the Barracudas during the pandemic so she could access pool time with the club’s high-performance program. She was one of the headline swimmers for NKB this season, qualifying for multiple A finals and earning many medals at the major meets, including one gold, two silver and two bronze at the Eastern Canadian championships from nine finals.
At the Canadian senior team trials, where she qualified for the Junior Pan-Pacific meet, Brousseau set personal-best times in all seven of her races and swam in four A finals.
Brousseau led Team Ontario in the pool during the Canada Summer Games in the Niagara Region, equalling the record for winning the most medals (11) at a single Games. She earned six gold, one silver and four bronze medals in individual and relay races.
The success of Brousseau and teammates like Breckin Gormley, Megan Wheeler, Alejandro Giggey and Preston McMann can partially be explained by their dedication to training during the pandemic, when pools were closed more than they were open for health and safety reasons.
“Our swimmers have come back with vengeance,” Faithfull continued. “During COVID, we did everything we could. When we trained, we tried to treat it like a family environment. An assistant coach set up a Facebook page … and we worked together. ‘Here’s what I’m doing. I’m doing this to stay strong.’ They were motivating each other.”
Swimming Canada certainly has noticed the presence of the Barracudas and offered them six berths in the second leg of the FINA Swimming World Cup in Toronto on Oct. 28-30. The first and third legs of the short-course competitions are in Berlin, Oct. 21-23, and Indianapolis, Indiana, Nov. 3-5.
Brousseau and Lydia James-Brennan will represent the Barracudas, while Giggey has been named, but needs to check with his McGill University coach. Faithfull hopes to fill out his six-swimmer roster with three athletes attending American universities – Gormley at the University of Kentucky, David Quirie at Florida State University, and Wheeler at Princeton University.
“It will be a great experience for all of them to go,” Faithfull said.
Brousseau – who was the Barracudas’ top female 16-year-old swimmer in 2022, breaking six short-course and five long-course club records – returned to training this week, after a three-week break following an extra-long 2021-22 season.
“She decided she wanted to do it,” Faithfull said about Brousseau’s emergence as an elite age-group swimmer this past season. “She’s talented and a big, strong girl in the water. She has taken to the next level.
“When she’s in the water, there’s no ifs, ands or buts. She’s here to train and learn.”
The 2024 Paris Summer Olympics are less than two years away and Faithfull believes Brousseau is on a path that could put her on the Canadian team.
“She’s in line to do that. All of the tracking we’re doing and Swimming Canada is doing, she’s on the right track.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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