Aquanauts start season with new coach, young club

With their first meet looming this weekend, veteran members of the Fort Frances Aquanauts have been pleasantly surprised how much swimming they’ve already done in practice.
New head coach Roman Ramirez has upped his ‘A’ and ‘B’ competitive swimmers’ length to 5,000 metres a session—up 3,000 from last season.
The ‘C’ (competitive and non-competitive) and ‘D’ swimmers average about 1,200 metres per practice.
“It’s been a lot of work,” Karli McKinnon, 13, said of the early training regiment, which also included running laps around the Memorial Sports Centre in late August and September.
“But you can really see the results. I just know we’re going to be a better team this year,” she added.
Only 10 of the 34 competitive swimmers will splash into the new season this Friday and Saturday at the “Fall Express” meet in Balmertown. But a bigger contingent will be on hand for the Kenora Invitational on Nov. 16-18.  In total, the Aquanauts will compete in 10 meets over the next six months—including the regional championships here March 22-23.
Several swimmers also will take their crack at earning a berth at the Ontario Junior Provincial Championships in Brantford on March 1-3. In order to qualify, the swimmers’ personal best must be up to a certain standard.
“I’m hoping to make the qualifying times. It’ll be tough, but I’m going to try,” said Boyd Badiuk, 12.
For Ramirez, he said he’s been pleased with how dedicated the team has been in the first two months of training, noting every swimmer worked hard at sticking to his regimen.
“The swimmers have been doing very well. We’re continuously working on conditioning and aerobics, and they have taken very well to it,” he remarked.
He said the trip to Balmertown this weekend will set the tone for the season.
“This upcoming meet is important because it gives each swimmer a chance to see how they’ve improved,” Ramirez said. “Over the year, I think they will develop very well. They are very focused.”
It will be a young club that takes to the pool this winter. Three of the veterans—Brendan Cumming, Sarah McTavish, and Jeff Plum-ridge—have left after graduating from Fort High in June.
Cumming and Plumridge are attending the University of Guelph, with the latter swimming on the men’s varsity team, while McTavish is attending Lakehead University in Thunder Bay.
“There’s a lot of younger kids. We’re one of the younger groups around,” noted McKinnon.
Nine swimmers also will compete under the Muskie program at various meets throughout the winter, said club president John Dutton.
In addition to the meets, the club has a busy schedule of activities planned—including various fundraisers and possibly participating in the “polar plunge” into Rainy Lake in January.
“Like everything else, fundraising is a fact of life,” said Dutton, who braved the icy waters in a girls’ swimsuit in the inaugural “polar plunge” this past January.
“We expect to draw a pretty good season this year.”
The club also is planning a bring-a-friend day, where the members can bring in friends for a day of swimming. The initiative is a way to try and increase the number of swimmers, which is at 84 members—with only eight beginners.
“We’re hoping to increase members as the months go on,” said Ramirez.
Badiuk said he will readily promote the sport when called upon. “It’s fun. You get to go to a lot of places,” he enthused. “There’s always something to improve on.”
“I like travelling to swim meets,” agreed 14-year-old Heather Dutton. “I like meeting new friends and spending time with my team.”
“Swimming is just fun and a good way to stay in shape,” added McKinnon.
Don’t be mistaken. While the aim is to enjoy the swimming experience, the competitive juices already have started flowing as the meet season approaches.
“I think I’m doing the 100-metre freestyle at one minute and five seconds,” noted Badiuk when asked what his specialty was—until McKinnon corrected him after she and Heather Dutton glanced over the group’s personal bests list.
“Actually, you’re doing the 100 freestyle in one minute and five point six-six seconds.”
“Oops, sorry,” said Badiuk with a smile. “Karli and Heather are always trying to beat me in the 100s.”