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Artistic swimming club ready to go back into virtual competition

Royal City Artistic Swimming Club called off annual Winter Water Show in December

Royal City Artistic Swimming Club was prepared for the new COVID guidelines announced this week.

The club has a few meets on its competitive schedule, but was prepared for them to turn from in-person competitions to virtual ones like they were in 2021.

“We're going into competitive season,” club president Kyla Poirier said prior to the announcement of the new provincial guidelines that will, at the very least, keep the club out of the water for most of January.

The club was to have teams compete in an in-person meet the third weekend of January, but it will be a virtual one if it is held.

“The swimmers don't love it, but we have been doing some filming this week in preparation for that first January meet because we are concerned that it may end up having to be virtual,” Poirier said.

“All our competitions were virtual last year,” RCASC head coach Brenna Thompson said. “Depending on the timing, if we were in full lockdown or if swimmers were back in the pool practising, they looked different. We had ones that were more of a dance routine based in individual and they were focusing on the skills.

“And we had one or two that we were able to submit videos for judging. Many clubs submitted their videos and we were ranked accordingly. We're preparing for that type of environment again. It's always great to have that insurance policy just in case we aren't available to go in person to a competition.”

“It's obviously not what we want or what the kids want," Poirier said. “We are really hoping that they can compete in person this year, but everyone's safety is really paramount.”

The club did pull the plug on its annual Winter Water Show that was to be held in the mid-December right before a break for the holidays.

“In a normal year, non-COVID, we would have a very large show on the last Saturday before the holiday and it's used as a showcase of the swimmers, it's used as a fundraiser and we use it to thank our volunteers. All of those things,” Poirier said.

“Last year we did it entirely virtual and this year we thought, OK, the numbers are good and we can do it in person as long as we're taking attendance ahead of time to control the number. Just the (COVID infection) numbers were climbing. It's sad and I'm disappointed for our swimmers.

“We did still videotape it and that will be going out to our swimmers. Again, just erring on the side of caution, we just felt that was important.”

RCASC is also to host a West Regional meet April 30.

The club, with a membership of about 45, came through the first year and a half of COVID shutdowns and guidelines that kept them out of the pool for long durations and in the pool in reduced numbers in fairly good shape. It received Jumpstart, City of Guelph and Ontario Artistic Swimming grants.

“We got basically every grant that we could possibly find to apply for, which was a huge help with the reduced number of swimmers,” Poirier said. “We are a fortunate organization in that we did weather that storm, but we did still feel the effects of it. We did lose swimmers. We did lose time in the pool and all of that.”

One thing they did gain during the last year or so is Thompson as head coach. She joined the club’s coaching staff in 2021 and became its head coach in July.

“I'd been coaching in Halton Hills with their club for many years,” Thompson said. “I've lost track of how many years (with Halton Hills), but I have been coaching for over 15 years.”

Thompson was also a two-sport athlete as she competed in both swim races and artistic swimming, formerly known as synchronized swimming.

“I think my mom just found it when I was really young,” she said. “I have an older sister and she started in the program (in Milton) four months before I did. I wanted to swim so much because I was a big fish and I just made the switch eventually when I was old enough. They didn't want to take me at first because I was seven years old and at that time they only wanted nine and plus, but my mom convinced them to allow me to join the club.”

The club also underwent a name change at about the time COVID first hit, making the switch from the Guelph Synchronized Swimming Club to the RCASC as per a country-wide mandate as both the federal and provincial governing bodies changed their names, too.

“They're aligning it more with the artistic aspect within skating because our programs run very similar to the ones on ice and with gymnastics as well,” Thompson said. “They all have the same basic judging principles and skating had made the transition to artistic and gymnastics has always really had that artistic so they moved that over to artistic swimming.”

While the club’s registration for its competitive teams is closed, they are looking to add participants in its recreational classes and masters programs for its winter session. The fall session finished in December.

“It's a great way to get in the water, experience what artistic swimming is without committing to the level of a provincial competitive team,” Poirier said.

Those could be changed if the current guidelines carry on too long.

“We didn't offer as many rec classes during COVID because we had to keep our numbers down, but pre the month of December things were looking better so we were able to increase our numbers in the fall,” Poirier said. “We keep our swimmers masked when we're on the deck or in dryland practices they can stay masked. Obviously, when you're in the water you can't have a mask on.”

While the idea of a masters program might conjure up images of senior citizens in the pool, that isn’t the case. In artistic swimming, masters are as young as 18.

“It's for anyone who just wants to remain active for life,” Thompson said. “For those who maybe want to keep active, like those who have come from a club and don't want to be fully in the provincial atmosphere with all the competitions, they can swim there. Most masters, I would say, start after their university time.”

However, masters swimmers can experience the feeling of competing, if they wish.

“In Ontario, they have the option, it's not mandatory, they have the option to go to two competitions,” Thompson said. “Depending on how they placed, there is a Canadian masters competition and then there are worlds, as well.”

For now the club will remain flexible as it keeps up with whatever guidelines come into effect.

“With COVID, we've seen lately that things can change very rapidly so we will have to be adjusting as needed,” Poirier said. “We're lucky that whenever the pools were physically open through COVID, we've had swimmers in the pools. We did learn very quickly that we have to be adaptable and unfortunately sometimes it's out of our control. We try to just stay positive for our athletes and make the best of every situation.”