Vancouver Island’s fastest young swimmers gathered at the Cowichan Aquatic Centre earlier this month for a camp that was headlined by a former Olympian who was in their same position not long ago.
The Duncan Stingrays hosted the Swim BC Regional Age Group Camp for the fastest 13-and-under boys and 12-and-under girls from Vancouver Island, a total of 12 girls and 18 boys. The group included Stingrays Mary Paridaen van Veen, Bridget Burton and Ty Dahlstrom, with coaches coming from clubs in Comox, Victoria and Nanaimo, as well as Duncan head coach Leanne Sirup and assistants Sophie Paridaen van Veen, Megan Lewis and Kyle Danielewicz.
The guest of honour was Alec Page, an Olympian who got his start attending camps not unlike this one, and who was there to show the young swimmers how far they can go.
“He’s a real-world example of what’s possible,” Sirup said. “Rather than being a name on a piece of paper, it’s a person they can connect to.”
Originally from Cortes Island, Page first dreamed of going to the Olympics when he was seven years old, although he didn’t know at the time what sport he wanted to compete in. He went on to place 23rd in the 400m individual medley at the 2012 Games in London, as well as 14th in the 4x200m freestyle relay. His resume also includes medals from the 2011 World Junior Championships, World University Games and 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto, as well as an appearance at the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona. He retired in November 2015, but remains connected to the sport.
“Mostly I come to camps like this and try to help out where I can,” he said. “I enjoy these camps. I remember what it was like to be at that age at events similar to this and hear the cheesy inspirational story from someone in this position. I try to take the cheese out of it, but sometimes it can’t be helped.”
Page’s message to the swimmers last weekend was mostly about hard work, goal-setting, visualizing and relaxing.
“You’ve got go be on your side,” he said. “Confidence in yourself will take you a long way.”
Page’s goal of making it to the Olympics took him through the ups and downs of years of training.
“Regardless of what your goal is, hold on to it,” he said. “You never know.”
Born in Victoria, Page grew up on Cortes Island and trained with the swim team in Campbell River.
“It’s always given me great perspective, going to meets all over the world,” he commented. “My humble beginnings made me appreciate it more.”
The camp was just part of a busy season for the Stingrays, who will also be hosting the Vancouver Island Swimming Championships in January and the BC Summer Games in July.
A week before the regional camp, the Stingrays sent 39 swimmers between the ages of eight and 17 to the Riptides Fall Invitational in Nanaimo, where several of them had multiple top-eight finishes, including Dahlstrom, Burton, Mary Paridaen van Veen, Oliver Castle, Ryca Stiwich, McKinley Thomas-Perry and Rudolf Kruger.
“The calibre of racing was comparable to the Island Championships we’ll host in January,” Sirup said.