Cheryl Paavola prepares for the competition in Montreal.

North Coast swimmers ready to take on the best in the world

For many, the prospect of participating in sport competitively ceases to exist once your age dictates you must be the best-of-the-best.

For many, the prospect of participating in sport competitively ceases to exist once your age dictates you must be the best-of-the-best to keep going.

Not so for Masters Swimming Canada.

“The sport does not end at [age] 18,” said Prince Rupert’s Cheryl Paavola.

“Because there’s nobody up here [older than 18] swimming [in a competitive environment], the kids don’t know [that you can].”

Paavola, who recently returned from Nanaimo as an assistant coach with Team Northwest’s swimming squad at the B.C. Summer Games, will compete in the 50, 100, 200, 400 and 800-metre freestyle races in the women’s 40-44 age group at the 15th Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA) World Masters Championships which runs in Montréal from July 27 to Aug. 10.

She’ll swim against hundreds of athletes who made the minimum required times to participate, but she’ll also swim against former Olympians and Commonwealth Games veterans.

That’s how it is with the masters, all adults, who range in skill level but not in work ethic.

Starting from age 25, and with age groups increasing in increments of five years, the masters’ swimming circuit pits anyone against everyone.

“Once I found out it would be held in Montreal, I thought … it would be a lot nicer to travel and represent Canada in Canada,” said Paavola.

And the swimmer’s not the only athlete going from the northwest coast. Amanda Jaskwan-Bedard from Old Massett will also be heading to the hustle and bustle of Quebec’s largest city. She’ll try her hand at the 50 and 100 breaststroke and the 200 freestyle in the 35-39 age division.

“I don’t have a place to swim [to practice] but I have swam in the lake a few times. It’s pretty cold,” she explained, adding that there’s a strong need for a community pool on Haida Gwaii.

Neither Paavola nor Jaskwan-Bedard have swam competitively since they were in their late teens, and as Jaskwan-Bedard pointed out, things are a little different now than they were then.

“It’s funny, I actually feel better now. Probably because teenage life is pretty hard. I know I peaked when I was swimming between the ages of 13 and 15; that’s when girls are at their fastest in the swim world and I did pretty well,” she said.

“It was actually hard between 15 and 19, there was so much going on. Now it feels like such a great relief and I’m really focused on it.”

The one-time Rupertite swims whenever she can off-island, including Prince Rupert, Port McNeill and Victoria.

“It’s just nice too because I have a busy work life and family life (with a two year-old son Wiijaa) so to have that focus when I go to the pool [is a nice switch],” said Jaskwan-Bedard.

In order to participate in sanctioned time-qualifiers for the FINA worlds, Paavola had to ask area swim coaches to include a masters’ class race with some of the Points North youth meets.

“At a sanctioned masters’ meet, you can’t swim with the kids to get your times,” explained Paavola.

At the Montreal event, FINA will host five disciplines: swimming, diving, water polo, synchronized swimming and open water swimming.

The organization has a membership of 203 national federations throughout the world. The 14th world championships took place in 2012 in Riccione, Italy.