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Tour de NCA captures the imagination of local swim club

There are countless skills that will form the make-up of a very good coach.

For Linda Tenhunen, in this year in particular, creativity rose rapidly to the very top of that list.

With some 15 years or more of working with local swimmers to her credit, Tenhunen was dealt the same blow as hundreds and hundreds of coaches, right across this country, last spring - how exactly to ensure the buy-in of their athletes while dealing with everything that a global pandemic entails.

"There are very few young people who are able to engage simply for the sake of engagement," stated the local physician. "Most of them need something to make it fun. There are a few that will just go at it, and we certainly have some athletes who would have done the workouts, either way, but I do think there is more engagement if you make it fun."

Thinking just slightly outside of the box, Tenhunen created the Tour de NCA (Nickel City Aquatics), a point based reward system tied in to some physical activity that swimmers would undertake, all while tapping into some of the most well-known elements of the famous Tour de France cycling race.

"The kids were awarded points/miles for activities, which could include regular day activities: walking the dog, riding your bike, or workout activities like sit-ups or burpees or whatever," she said. "I used an energy chart to calculate values."

"We started in Paris and ended in London and worked our way through Europe. Each week, whoever accumulated the most miles would get the yellow jersey. It was pretty popular - I was happy with the up-take," she added.

Of course, the push behind the creative concept came largely from the closing of local pools, eliminating the standard training sessions that the NCA members would partake in, several times a week, typically right through until mid July.

Looking to maintain some degree of fitness for her swimmers, Tenhunen imagined a program that might actually check a few different boxes, along the way.

"Creating the t-shirts was fun," she said. "We had Tour de NCA with a map of Europe on the back, with various places that we had visited. I think it was more fun for me, because I got to visit these capitals in Europe (on-line) and find interesting sights."

"There's a place in Finland where you can take a beer bath. You can always hope that the kids learn a little something, but mostly, it was just for the fun."

With the Tour wrapping up in June and Swim Ontario releasing their open water swim guidelines not long thereafter, it was time for Tenhunen to tap into her streak of ingeniousness, once again.

"We ran a six-week swimming program at Moonlight Beach - that was interesting, and different," she said.

"We couldn't swim long distances because there was just too much boat traffic. With kids spread out, I didn't think it was safe. So we swam at the beach. I made buoys that I would put in the water in different formations each practice, so the kids would swim different pattens, between the buoys, or around the buoys, or back and forth to the buoys."

"It helped maintain their aerobic fitness and kept them socially connected," Tenhunen continued. "That was a really big aspect to it."

Even as Nickel City Aquatics and other swim clubs in town returned to pool training in September or so, the fact is that the end goals are not the same as in a typical competitive season - certainly not in terms of the short-term goals.

Restrictions and protocols would make that next to impossible.

"Practice sizes are markedly reduced because of the necessity to physical distance. Instead of six kids per lane, we're down to two kids per lane, a max of 12 swimmers in the whole pool. That's the biggest change."

"But there are positives, in that the groups are small, so we can individualize practices, which is nice for the coaches," Tenhunen granted. "Then again, with larger groups in the pool, they tend to have energy levels to feed off."

Not a problem, really.

Linda Tenhunen will find a way, some innovative, clever and unique way to ensure that her athletes still have the means of creating their own personal energy level.

Orendorff and Associates