After 10 years of competitive summer swimming, Rachel Deschenes is calling it a career.
The 20-year-old third-year geophysics student at the University of Calgary got her start in the sport when she was in Grade 3, swimming for the temporarily-revived Hope Otters. When the club went into hiatus in 2006, Deschenes switched to the Agassiz-Harrison Aquanauts — then back to the Otters for 2010 — and back down-river for the 2012-2014 seasons. She served as assistant coach of the Aquanauts for the past two years.
After drilling her students all season, Deschenes said, the tide was turned on her.
“The students like to see the coaches swim, so I put myself in two Div. 7 (age 17-20) relays and the 50-fly at the summer regionals,” said Deschenes. “I had very, very, very limited training!”
The relays were the 200-medley and 200-freestyle.
“In order for the relays to go to the provincials, you have to finish top-two. For individuals, it’s top-three,” she explained. “Our medley finished second and our freestyle was third — and I finished second in the fly at the regionals.
“At the provincials in Kamloops, our medley came in 12th and I finished 13th in the fly.”
Putting on her coaching hat, Deschenes was still beaming about the success of one of her swimmers, who had struggled with disqualifications this year.
“Hebrina McInroy swims in my division and we had worked all summer to get her to the point of swimming without getting a DQ — and she earned a bronze (in the 50-fly) at regionals.
“At Kamloops, I stayed in the water while Hebrina finished. I was at the wall, screaming for her to finish — and she came in 15th in the province. She was so thrilled!”
Reflecting on her swimming career, Deschenes’ said her biggest regret was taking a year off in Grade 11.
“Swimming is time-consuming… but the year I took off, I hated it. I had nothing to do,” she recalled. Speaking as a swim coach: “When you see kids with the same amount of passion you had when you started, it makes having no summer worth it.”
Deschenes knows that she’ll have to make some changes in her post-swimming life.
“When you’ve done something for 10 years, it’s hard to break the habit. Div. 8 is the end of the line, ‘open’ category,” said Deschenes, “but next summer, I’m staying in Calgary. I need to think about getting a job in my field.”
That decision will also bring changes for her student of the last two years, Nicola James, of Dogwood Valley. The two are family friends and would often make the drive together to the two or three weekly training sessions.
Ten-year-old James started in Agassiz in 2013 and said her best event is the 50-backstroke.
“She has a strong kick and natural timing,” said her coach. “Lots of swimmers don’t have the connection between the legs and arms, like Nicola does.”
James went to the provincials last year, swimming the backstroke leg in the Div. 5 medley relay — competing against girls aged 13 to 15.
This year, she was on the young end of her division and did not get any qualifying times for the provincials. Her take-away was personal improvement, which should help her 2015 season when she’ll be one of the older swimmers in her division.
James notched 14 personal-best times this year and was honoured by her club with a big commemorative ribbon.