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Interest in Guelph Marlins finds 'sweet spot' with Olympic push and lockdowns being lifted

Guelph Marlin Aquatic Club sees more than twice its usual number of participants

The Guelph Marlin Aquatic Club has been swamped by demands for swimming lessons and they couldn’t be happier.

“It's been fantastic, the number of people wanting lessons, the number of people wanting to get in the pool,” said Laura Nicholls, the Marlins’ age group and development director. 

While the club’s previous record of swim requests in a single year was around 80, that number’s been knocked out of the water with more than 200 requests this year and it’s a combination of the recent Canadian success in Olympic swimming as well as the COVID-induced lockdowns.

“It's definitely a very big number,” Nicholls said. “Typically post-Olympics the number of requests goes up, so with the Olympic postponement by a year it sort of pushed back our requests. I'm looking for a positive influx of numbers and it's kind of at that sweet spot of the return-after-COVID and great Olympic swimming combination.”

While the number of requests is high, the Marlins are ready and they weren’t all that surprised by it either.

“This year we knew the requests were coming,” Nicholls said. “We knew the numbers were going to be high so we were able to use the pool time that we have a little bit differently and we were able to make sure that a lot of our evening shallow-water pool time was directed into lessons. Nobody wants to do swim lessons at 5:30 in the morning so we'll leave that for the competitive guys.”

Nicholls, a Waterloo native who is to begin her fifth season with the Marlins next month, has quite a swimming resume. She competed in the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000 and is a member of both the Ontario Aquatic Hall of Fame and the Waterloo County Hall of Fame.

“For whatever my personal swimming history might be, I still think it's a fundamental life skill and if you don't know how to swim, what happens if you're at the cottage or you go to a friend's property that's on a lake or you're out fishing and you fall off the boat? What happens?” she said.

“Learn enough to be able to not panic in any situation and be able to swim. If your passion for swimming changes and you want more than just a life skill and you want to pursue something more, then we've got the avenue for you.”

The Marlins will be conducting swim assessments at Victor Davis Pool to determine where those requesting lessons fit in terms of their abilities in the pool.

Those assessments include pool time on Sept. 1 and 2.

“We're scheduling them in about 10-minute time blocks and we'll have no more than one family per lane. If you're coming in with two children, they'll come in at the same time and swim in the same lane. Otherwise, if we have five different families we'll take no more than five different people at a time in 10-minute increments.”

On hand from the Marlins will be coaches, swim instructors from the lessons program and some senior swimmers.

“We'll have someone in the water to make sure that if we have anyone who needs assistance in the water, there are people in the water to help with that,” Nicholls said. “And we've got the coaches that are just doing quick little assessments, taking a look to see what (those being assessed) can do in the terms of swimming. Are they comfortable in the water? Can they go 15 metres? Can they go 25 metres? How many of the strokes can they do?”

After the assessments are completed, the participants will be placed in one of the five different levels of lessons or into the competitive program if they're strong enough.

The club will also work within COVID protocols.

“Swim Ontario governs what we do and it is a constant changing evolution,” Nicholls said. “Swim Ontario has cleared up to eight swimmers a lane. We're not planning to function at that. We are planning to function at lower numbers, probably up to three, four or five swimmers a lane so that we can keep them spaced out. Keep our physical distance.

“Our instructors when we get into the swim lessons part, it'll be keep your distance when at all possible. When not possible, I have every intention of putting them in masks in the pool. Obviously, you've got to be careful you don't put your face in with the mask and then have an issue with your instructors.”

In a way the Marlins had a bit of a rehearsal when they had to find ways to keep their competitive swimmers safe during their workouts when they were allowed in the pool for about five months during the last year and a half. There was a lot of dryland training using Zoom and there was open-water swimming at the Guelph Lake Conservation Area during the warmer months.

“It's going to be a challenge, but last year was a challenge on the competitive side trying to make things work and think outside the box,” Nicholls said. “This is the same concept. How do you do this, how do you make it safe, how do you make it enjoyable and how do you make it fun within the new restrictions that we live with day to day?”

However, the new protocols and different methods of doing the lessons won’t take away from the enjoyment the participants and coaches will get once lessons resume next month. There’ll be a two-week power format with a total of six sessions in September and a nine-week series that starts after Thanksgiving in October.

“It's going to be fantastic,” Nicholls said. “I'm really looking forward to a new season. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to provide this swim experience to those who haven't had it in a while.”