Almost ten full years into her time as an artistic swimmer, Lana Squires embodies a much more competitive approach to her sport that she did at the outset. That is to be expected.
And while the current athletic environment has caused many a sports group to press the pause button on a more competitive focus, Squires and others are finding a way to maintain the buy-in, even in tough times.
"When I was 10 or even younger, I saw the sport as just being for fun," said the 14 year-old long-time member of the Sudbury Synchro Club. "Now, I come to practice with a completely different mindset, honestly."
"I'm always looking to improve."
Yes, the workouts can be a tad repetitive - there are only so many different variations of core drills - forcing the push, at times, to come more from the individual athletes.
"I find that even if the practice plan is the same as what I used to do, or even slightly more difficult, I find that I keep challenging myself, so the practices become more difficult because the amount of energy that you're putting into practice is higher," said Squires.
Even core drills can take on new lives of their own.
"One figure that I did a lot when I was 11 or 12 was a barracuda," stated the eldest of three children in the family. "You touch your toes underwater in kind of a "V" position and then thrust out of the water, feet first, and then sink straight down."
"That's all we used to do. Now, we've started to add a layout, and a completely separate figure while doing that, and we've also added a 360 degree spin."
The progress has been evident as Squires and company have battled with many of the top clubs in the province at meets hosted, typically, all over Ontario. The grade nine student at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School has even attended the Ontario Winter Games on two separate occasions (2018 & 2020).
But much is different from one year ago this time.
For starters, the local club have fallen victim to the decision by Laurentian University to keep the Jeno Tihanyi Olympic Pool shuttered, well prior to this current lockdown.
Thankfully, Sudbury Synchro have identified an alternative - and while it may not perfectly replicate their customary home for training, it's still a better option than other swimmers are facing.
"We're really grateful that we can practice at Dow (R.G. Dow Pool in Copper Cliff), even though it's not the best pool for artistic swimming," said Squires. "It's nice that we get to practice there; a lot of other teams from maybe Ottawa or Toronto haven't had any pool time whatsoever."
Looking to keep their athletes engaged, Ontario Artistic Swimming (OAS) staged a pair of Early Bird Skills Assessment meets, virtual events that were hosted in the comfort of the athletes' homes, thereby avoiding any kind of close contact between swimmers.
"It kind of made it a completely different kind of sport," said Squires. "There were different strength aspects, like holding a plank or doing push-ups or burpees, or skipping."
"We also had a flexibility aspect. It was a good experience to see how we placed in our land skills, and not just our water skills that we usually do."
"Our coaches always tell us that what we do on land really transfers into the water."
In putting together the series of dryland athletic challenges, the OAS naturally looked to incorporate activities where the underlying purpose of a drill is one which produced a benefit that the competitors could continue to derive once their more traditional gatherings resume some time this year or next.
"If we do planks, it really works our core, which can really help us when we are vertical in the water to remain stable," explained Squires. To boot, there may have even been an unintended bonus as swimmers are forced to assert a greater degree of independence than usual.
"I've always had my coaches at competitions to help me get in the proper mindset for doing the skills in front of the judges," said Squires. "This was just me at home. I was just so happy that everything went smoothly."
Squires, like many others, is quick to attest that there have been rough patches along the way, rough patches that are perhaps more easily traversed with friends.
"With the current lockdown, we are all doing workouts at home and for me, I really struggled with my self-motivation," she said. "Usually, I am a very dedicated person and I did end up doing all of my workouts, but sometimes I was dreading it."
"My teammates are so supportive, and so are my coaches."
Even more competitive athletes appreciate the occasional helping hand.