While most residents of Hay River have been affected by the ongoing municipal strike in one way or another, for some young athletes, being out of the pool could cost them a shot at the biggest games of their lives.
“I’d say I’m frustrated, I guess,” said Graham St. John. “I’ve trained, I’ve paid for my year, and I’ve always wanted to go to Westerns.”
Graham is one of a handful of swimmers who have either already qualified to represent the NWT at the games this coming summer or are very close to doing so. Coach Kelvin Yee, who is also the head of NWT Swimming, said the rules dictate that the children must attend at least 80 per cent of their given swimming program — as well as make certain times — in order to compete.
“You can do dry land training as much as you want,” he said. “But you don’t have the technique and you don’t have the muscles you need to swim.”
As it stands, Yee said the Hay River Lions Swim Club typically operates a 36-week program, meaning athletes would have to spend at least 29 weeks in the pool in order to qualify for Team NWT. The team for the Western Canada Summer Games in August will be named June 12, and while Yee said there is still time to make up lost hours, that window is closing.
“I’d swim them seven-days-a-week to get them caught up if I had to,” he said. “There’s still time for that, but if the strike goes on until May, there won’t be.”
When asked whether there was any room for leniency in NWT Swimming’s policies, Yee who is head of both that organization and the Hay River swimming club and acknowledges the conflict of interest that can bring about, said the rules are reflections of reality.
“As a swim coach, you wouldn’t take them anyway,” he said, referring to the possibly of taking the swimmers who had already qualified to the games regardless of whether they had been in the pool or not. “The muscle structure is gone.”
So far, Allie Buhler and St. John have qualified with Kaylee Melvin very close to achieving the time needed to do so. There are several others who are one or two seconds away from making Team NWT.
Yee said he has been trying to set up camps in neighbouring towns including Fort Smith, but that it’s not fair to the parents who would have to pay extra and then drive their children to alternate activities, nor is it a real replacement for their own swim club practices. He also said some parents had even been considering moving their children to Yellowknife for the rest of the season to have access to pool facilities.
For St. John, these games would have been the highlight of his career. While he had been anticipating competing at the Canada Summer Games, a recent rule change will make him too old in the next round. He said he had been considering heading to university to continue swimming as well, but that being out of the pool has been tough.
“It’s hard to stay motivated when I’ve been out of the pool for so long,” he told The Hub. “This was my last chance to go to a big event and now I’ve trained so hard and there’s a possibility that I won’t be able to go.”