Athletes compete in sports for a variety of different reasons. Some thrive on the competition, or to push themselves to the limit. For others it’s a way to connect and make friends.
Sixteen-year-old Kobi Franes finds peace in two of his favourite pursuits: swimming and downhill skiing.
“It’s nice to be able to do the things you love,” Franes said. “It’s just nice to forget about your problems and enjoy the freedom of it.”
On most weekday afternoons, Franes can be found in the Earl Mah Aquatic Centre putting in some hard lengths.
After a brief activation session, where he stretches and loosens up his arms, he does a quick 200-metre warm-up using the stroke of his choice. After that, he does another 200-metre set, but this time, he increases the pace, aiming to complete the distance within a specific time limit. Finally comes the main set, 50 rounds of 50-metre swimming “sprints” where he has to swim at another increased pace. It’s a long, hard grind, but necessary if Franes wants to be ready for the 800- and 1,500-metre freestyle races he competes in.
“The practices suck,” he said. “But I usually feel pretty good afterwards.”
Franes admits that he was not a natural swimmer when he started as a nine-year-old. He first ventured in the pool because one of his friends was taking swimming lessons and invited him to come and give it a try.
Franes said the results of that first attempt were not very encouraging.
“I was horrible,” said Franes. “I wasn’t really a swimmer, I didn’t really like it. I couldn’t even put my head under water.”
Despite this early difficulty, Franes stuck with the sport, gradually improving his technique over time and joining the Prince Rupert Rapids club team. He said in addition to the camaraderie and friendships he developed, he enjoyed the fact that he was becoming a better swimmer.
“It was competitive but friendly,” he said. “And it’s the only sport I’ve really been good at.”
Franes said breaststroke was his favourite discipline in the pool, and he hoped he would be able to compete in it. But after nearly qualifying for AA competition during a long-distance swim session in practice, Franes’s coach decided that he should focus on his strengths.
“After that, it was pretty much, ‘this is what we’re going to concentrate on’,” Franes said with a laugh.
From then on, it was all about working on developing the strength, endurance and mental toughness necessary to do well in long-distance swims.
There is nothing flashy or flamboyant about an 800- or 1,500-metre swim. The athletes have only one job to do: pick a pace, keep their head down, keep kicking and pound out the lengths until the race is over. Franes said maintaining concentration and level of focus helps him to forget about whatever problems he has. He said it’s a liberating feeling.
Franes’s potential in the sport shows. He came within a second of beating the club record for the event at the most recent swim meet.
“There’s definitely freedom in the pool,” he said. “While I’m there I’m just putting my head down and getting the laps in.”
Franes said he also gets the feeling of liberation in the other sport he’s passionate about — downhill skiing. Born into a family of alpine enthusiasts, Franes said he was on skis before he could walk, and he gets the same feeling of peace and calm on the slopes as he does in the pool.
“I’ve been doing it so long that it feels like second nature,” he said. “There are definitely similarities between the two sports for me.”
Whether he’s on the hills, or trying to break that record, Franes said he will keep pushing himself and having fun.