Faith Knelson returned home from the Vancouver Island Regional Short Course Championship last week laden with the spoils of a personal gold rush.
Eleven-year-old Knelson — the only member of the Ladysmith-Chemainus Orcas Swim Club to medal at the meet held Jan. 18-20 at the Comox Valley Aquatic Centre — stepped onto the podium a total of nine times to collect six gold and three silver medals.
Fellow Orcas Chantal Greenhalgh, Pamela Little, Darby Rae, and Aileen and Morgan Humphreys competed in Comox, too, posting improvements in at least one event each.
Orcas coach Dusan Toth-Szabo said his swimmers were happy with their performances in Comox.
“You have to take into consideration that we did not swim for two weeks over the [Christmas] break,” Toth-Szabo added. “This swim meet is always the first swim meet of the year and, in the middle of January, it’s hard to perform when you’re not swimming during the break and at Christmas.”
It may take the Orcas a week or two yet to hit their stride this year, but Toth-Szabo remains excited about the club’s current status.
“Everything looks good,” Toth-Szabo said. “Our numbers are still growing.”
Membership in the Orcas is inching its way towards 70 swimmers, Toth-Szabo said, requiring the club to hire an additional coach. The club is well-represented at all levels now, he added, from the 10-and-under level through to national-level competitions.
This past weekend, Knelson travelled to Campbell River with Orcas teammates Chantal Greenhalgh and Shane Valic to compete in an open meet.
Toth-Szabo said Knelson’s goal was to obtain a third qualifying time for the Canadian Age Group Championships, Canada’s premiere competition for swimmers aged 12-18, to be hosted in Montreal in July, while Valic’s goal is to qualify for the AA provincial championships.
Knelson won all three of her events, finishing first in the 50m backstroke, 100m breaststroke and 50m butterfly.
Greenhalgh finished first in 10-and-under 50 back, and she was second in the 100 breast and 50 fly and fourth in the 50 free.
Valic finished first in 12-and-under 100 back and earned three seconds — in the 50 back, 100 breast and 50 free. He also finished fourth in the 50 fly and sixth in the 200 individual medley, and he qualified for the 50 free eliminator, where he finished fourth.
On the not-so-distant horizon for the Orcas is the AA provincial short course championships in Surrey Feb. 8-10. Toth-Szabo said club members Conrad Carlson, Darby Rae and Aileen Humphreys have qualified to attend, while Valic and two other Orcas “are really close” to qualifying.
In the wake of the AA championships, Swim BC will host the 2013 TAS AAA Short Course Age Group Championships in Victoria from Feb. 28 to March 3. For now, Knelson is the only Orca to have qualified for the AAA provincial championships, but Toth-Szabo said Conrad Carlson and Aileen Humphreys may earn AAA privileges for themselves while competing in Surrey.
Knelson took time out at practice last week to discuss her goals for the season. She has her sights set on competing in Montreal in July, and she’s close to making that a reality. 2013 is the first year that Swimming Canada has required athletes to qualify in three events before they’re allowed to compete in the national age-group championships, Knelson said.
She’s earned national qualifying times in both the 50m and 100m breaststroke, and she’s a fraction of a second away from qualifying in both the 50m butterfly and 50m backstroke. She has until summer to qualify.
Knelson towers over her 10-year-old teammate Greenhalgh, adding that people often assume she’s 13 or 14. Many gifted swimmers are taller and leaner than their peers and Knelson is no exception, but natural talent is only half of her recipe for success. She said she’s training harder this year, putting in time “every weekday now” and she thinks the extra effort will pay off.
She prides herself on being boisterous enough to raise the ire of coach Toth-Szabo on occasion.
“I goof around a lot, so Dusan gets mad at me for that,” Knelson said, adding that she shares that same intensity with her teammates at meets when she cheers them on “at the top of my lungs.”