Darby Link keeps her eyes on instructor Bob Penner at a recent starter level swim session

Chilliwack swim club offers local sessions

Spaces still open for students to join starter level swim program at the Hope Recreation Centre.

Local kids, stroking their way to fitness and fun. That’s the goal of swim coaches Bob Penner and Steve Link, working under the sponsorship of the Chilliwack Spartans swim club.

The Hope Otters weren’t able to operate a summer club in 2011 but there’s still sufficient interest in youth swimming to warrant a winter starter level session, where kids can improve their strokes and learn to swim competitively.

“This is the third year of the winter program, sponsored by the Spartans and my second year coaching it,” said Penner on Monday. “The Spartans provide the insurance coverage and the kids get a team shirt and racing cap.

“We provide swimming lessons and hopefully create a competitive atmosphere while still having fun learning to swim.”

Currently there are 20 local students in the program, from age six to 14 — but Penner says there’s room for more. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, they have four of the six lanes roped off for use from 5:45-6:45 p.m.

“Like the Chilliwack club, we coincide with the school schedule,” explained Penner, a gold medalist at the Sydney Paralympics. “The first session goes from September to Christmas and we start the next session in January.

“It’s not too late to join us now,” he added. “It’s $187 for four months but we would prorate the cost if they start late. Other than goggles and a swim suit, there’s no other cost.”

There is a minimum requirement for skills, though.

“We’d like the kids to already be comfortable in the water and be able to swim one length,” said Penner. “But there’s no time limit on the lap, and they can use whatever stroke they need.”

Penner works as a special education assistant at Kent Elementary and coaches in Chilliwack six days a week — including the 5-7 a.m. sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“I go at it hard for ten months, then take it easy in the summer,” he said, with his typical enthusiasm.

He works his swimmers hard too, pushing them to stretch their potential.

“In a typical practice at Hope, the older guys are probably swimming 1.5 to two kilometers in the hour.”

That’s 60 to 80 lengths.

“The younger kids put in maybe 50 lengths, which sounds like a lot,” said Penner, “but everything is adjusted according to ability.

“Steve Link has been a welcome addition too,” added Penner. “He’s very knowledgeable and he’s committed to growing the program. He knows most of the kids already and he knows what they need to work on.”

The complimentary team shirt and swimming cap are more than just decoration, contends Penner.

“We’re trying to get it across to the kids that they are welcome to come and take part in any of the swim meets that the Spartans take part in. They are also welcome to train with us on Saturdays in Chilliwack.”

To generate interest in the competitive aspect of swimming, Penner plans to run mini-meets during practices at the Dan Sharrers Pool, twice before and twice after Christmas.

“We’ll set it up like a swim meet, with all the starting blocks and people with stop watches.”

Penner said that the Spartans head coach, Justin Daly, will likely come up to run some video analysis of the kids’ swimming strokes — and he hopes that a special treat will be able to appear before Christmas.

“I saw Brent Hayden at Whistler on the weekend and he said he’d like to come out and see the kids,” said Penner. “It would be really great for the kids to meet him.”

Hayden is a Spartan alumnus and is ranked No. 2 in the world at the 100-metre freestyle. He hopes to improve on that at the London Olympics in 2012.

To learn more about the Spartans’ satellite program, ask at the recreation center reception desk or call Penner at 604-799-1357.