The uninitiated might be surprised by the amount of work that goes into preparing a competitive swimmer to participate in a meet.
Watch 16-year-old Amy Leighton practice with her teammates in the Prince Rupert Amateur Swim Club (PRASC), and observe the dedication it takes to swim at such a high level.
Swimmers from the club gather at the Earl Mah Aquatic Centre mid-afternoon, get into their swimsuits and meet on the pool’s upper deck. Before entering the pool, Leighton and her teammates go through a series of activations, exercises and movements to wake up their bodies before they start.
Once they completed their warm up, the swimmers, shoulders loose and legs stretched, go to the main pool where their coach Chris Street puts them through their paces. On this day, the main focus of the practice is on good form and increasing their thresholds — the maximum amount of effort they can put out for a set of pool lengths — which means pushing themselves to their limit continuously over a set amount of time.
The work is long and grueling, but for Leighton it is a pleasure to dedicate herself to a sport she loves.
“I enjoy competing and I enjoy going to different meets,” she said. “I enjoy all the people that I’ve met in the club.”
Leighton was introduced to swimming when she was just six years old. Her two older cousins, Sarah and Justin McChesney, swam with PRASC and she wanted to following their footsteps.
“They were swimming and my parents thought it was a good idea after swimming lessons,” she said. “I wanted to give it try.”
Leighton was scared when she went to her first practice. She said the fact that she had never done it before scared her, and made her worry that she wouldn’t like the sport. While her initial experience was intimidating, Leighton said the welcome she received from her teammates and coaches allowed her to enjoy herself.
“I had a really good group of friends that were in it and my coach was really good so I started to like it,” she said.
One practice turned into two, two turned into three, and before she knew it, Leighton was competing in her first meet, a regional competition at the local pool. She has since developed into a competitive all-around swimmer. Leighton races in all the different types of swimming strokes and excels as a distance swimmer.
While she enjoys all aspects of swimming, Leighton said one her weaknesses is that she is not the best sprinter. Sprinting takes a maximum burst of effort, which is in contrast to the methodical pacing required in distance swims.
“On a long distance swim, I kinda pace myself,” she said. “I’m better at pacing myself and starting out slow in the race and then building up, whereas with a sprint you just go all out.”
This past summer, Leighton competed in the North American Indigenous Games in Toronto. She competed in 12 events, brought home two bronze medals, one silver medal and three golds in the 200-metre butterfly, the 200-metre individual medley and the 800-metre freestyle. Leighton said the atmosphere and competitiveness of a big meet pumps her up and gets ready to race hard.
“I think I get more pumped up for the big provincial meets than a regional meet,” she said.
In addition to her performances in the pool, Leighton was recently awarded the 2017 Premier’s Award for Aboriginal Youth Excellence in Sport, which celebrates the outstanding achievements of Indigenous athletes who excel in sports and are using those experiences to shape their future. Leighton received the award in Terrace where she gave a speech and received a medal.
“I feel really honoured and I’m proud to be representing Metlakatla First Nation,” she said.
As for the future, Leighton said she plans to continue swimming both in her Grade 11 and 12 years of high school, and see where the sport takes her.
“I think it would be a good experience for me to swim in university,” she said. “At least for one year just to try it out.”