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A small but mighty group as resilient as they come
2023-01-19
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Where exactly to start with the challenges that Sudbury Artistic Swimming Club (SASC) have faced?

As much as Covid-19 threw a loop into all things sports related, the global pandemic may not have even been the most difficult hurdle to overcome for a local crew that likely numbered one hundred swimmers – max - at the height of the push for the sport in this area that was led by so many through the past decade or two.

As they now return from their first competition of the year in Nepean, it is just the junior quintet of Amy Lacelle, Amy Seguin, Heidi Fink, Lana Squires and Eva Jessup that are carrying the torch for the club which is investing plenty of time and efforts to try and re-stock the cupboards left bare by all that has happened since January of 2020.

“They are the most resilient group of girls that I know,” suggested coach Emily Binks, a second year Child & Youth Care student at Cambrian College who is only a handful of years removed from actually competing in the same event through which she just guided her athletes.

“They’re a team of five and that’s a small team when everyone else has eight people,” she continued. “There are so many challenges but the girls always just attack them. They are still here because they enjoy it.”

“And they are very lucky to be as close as they are.”

Forced to train out of the R.G. Dow Pool due to the closure of the Laurentian University facility, a venue that is far better equipped to handle the many nuances required to perfect both technical and free programs for these athletes, SASC athletes and coaches alike have leaned heavily upon each other – and a whole lot of inner strength – to push their way through competitions where their chances of success – pre-2020 – were much higher.

“We are really grateful to be able to train here at Dow, even though it’s not the best for synchronized swimming,” said 16 year old grade 11 student Lana Squires, referencing the former name of the sport that has now been pretty much globally switched to artistic swimming. “We haven’t really been able to swim our entire routine (in practice).”

“We have to swim sections of it – and we can’t always do figures and highlights (lifts and throws, etc...) because of the shallow end. It’s a little harder to launch our highlights and get the same height as other teams who have maybe six other people pushing when we only have three.”

“Our patterns are certainly not as complex but we can make them smaller which definitely looks good for the judges.”

Talk about trying to make lemonade from lemons that are sitting in the “beyond expiry date” bin at the local grocery store.

Still, they keep at it.

“Through the pandemic, I think me and my team were really good at supporting each other,” said Heidi Fink, a 15 year old grade 10 student at Ecole Secondaire Macdonald-Cartier. “We’ve been focusing a lot on mental health. I thought that was good.”

Even as they faced some “rough moments” in competition, the team still displayed the traits that caught the attention of judges and opposing teams. “We learned from our mistakes that happened,” said Fink. “We tried something new and had more fun with it. We talked and laughed and it helped to take our minds off the more stressful parts.”

“That was really good; we had a really good (second) swim.”

The simple truth is that the goals this year have to focus on the enjoyment aspect of the sport. Given the uneven playing field in which they currently compete, that is the reality of their situation – and it’s a reality they take in stride.

“I think the best part for me was seeing them in the shallow end, just before they were able to swim, and they’re just bobbing and laughing,” said Binks. “Nothing is better as a coach than seeing them love it.”

That kind of positivity is infectious. While the Sudbury team did not have the benefit of younger entries from the same club, cheering them on wildly from the pool deck, they did garner some support from an unexpected source.

“There was this amazing moment where some other girls who I don’t even know – don’t even know what team they are with – kind of all combined and stayed and cheered for us,” recalled Squires. “It was incredible – especially since we were competing against them. It was a huge motivation and inspiration and showed what the sport is all about.”

Despite all the challenges, this crew knows what the focus must be over the course of the next five weeks as they prepare to compete at the Leslie Taylor Ontario Cup in Markham. “It was very evident that endurance was lacking,” said Binks, not terribly surprised given the team’s inability to actually complete a full routine in practice.

“It’s not that they are not in shape; it’s that it’s so physically demanding. They are supposed to not look tired – it’s supposed to look easy. And I can tell you from being a swimmer for ten years, it’s far from easy.”

“I don’t think we placed that big of a focus on endurance at practice,” said Fink. “We mostly wanted to clean everything up - and it was only our first competition.”

Adding a little more endurance to the mix, the team is confident in their ability to continue to climb the ranks over the course of the winter. “I feel that our team can definitely do a lot of things that other teams can do – which I think is a little surprising for the judges and the coaches who are watching us,” said Squires.

It sounds like they simply don’t know the resilience that these Sudbury girls possess.

Greater Sudbury Soccer Club