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2014-01-31 at 6:00 PM

At the starting blocks

By Matt Vis,
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Swimmers from across the region are hoping their path to national competitions and beyond start in the pool of the Canada Games Complex.

More than 180 Northwestern Ontario swimmers are hitting the water at the Complex in Thunder Bay for the 2014 regional swim championships, which kicked off on Friday afternoon.

Thunder Bay Thunderbolts head coach Stewart McLean said teams such as Kenora, Fort Frances, Dryden and Red Lake all have strong talent in addition to the host club.

“The great thing about what’s going on in the region right now is every team has a kid that’s at a certain level,” McLean said.

“From the Thunderbolts standpoint we have a number of athletes that are top-five in the country in their age groups. It’s taken a while to get that but the product is very good.”

The region has seen the emergence of internationally successful athletes such as 1976 Olympians Tom Alexander, Andy Ritchie and Joann Baker-Anderson along with 2000 Paralympic medalist Andrea Cole.

McLean said despite the history, the region can still sometimes be overlooked and that it forces athletes to work harder for recognition.

“I think that benefits us to some degree because we can go in and show we’ve been working hard and belong on that stage,” he said. “I think there’s a certain amount of resilience that’s bred in this town and region, it’s not easy.”

Swimmers such as 17-year-old Megan Carlson are looking to achieve qualifying times that will allow them to gain entry into higher-level competition.

In addition to the chase for the magic qualifying standard, the event serves as a precursor to upcoming regional and provincial meets for the more competitive athletes.

Carlson has her bar set high, ultimately with the goal of returning to the national stage.

“I’m really hoping for my senior national time I haven’t gotten in a while,” she said. “I haven’t been there in a long time so it would be a great feeling to get that again.”

At the other end of the spectrum, some are making their competitive debuts.

Swimmers as young as seven will be getting their first taste of race action, with this weekend serving as the highlight of their season.

“Those kids that are competing in those higher level meets are tired because they’ve been training pretty hard but the younger kids are focusing on this meet so they’ve prepared a bit differently,” McLean said.

Those younger team members add another perk to competing at home for the veterans.

“It’s so good to be that leader that helps them through their first competition,” Carlson said.

Also up for grabs will be the team crown. The Thunderbolts are defending champions, but the squad from Kenora will be looking to regain the banner they last claimed in 2012.

While swimmers jump into the pool individually, there is still a large team atmosphere surrounding the event. McLean insists it is a team sport composed of individuals.

“We take great pride in hanging them because it’s about the team,” he said. “We take great pride in winning it and take it very seriously.”

Action continues all day Saturday before wrapping up Sunday morning.

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