A hug for the coach

Eli Dimitrov greets Jennifer Leach-Trask after she completed the inaugural Swim for Eli Sept. 9, 2013.

A beloved West Kelowna swim coach’s memory will be kept alive Saturday morning at the inaugural Across the Lake Swim Gellatly Bay.

The Across the Lake Swim Society has taken over Swim for Eli, which honours the memory of Eli Dimitrov, who coached the Okanagan Masters Swim Club from 2011 to 2013 as well as the Westside Thunder Masters and Liquid Lightning swim clubs.

Dimitrov moved to West Kelowna from Calgary in 2009 when her husband Emil accepted the head coach position with West Kelowna’s Liquid Lightning club.

She became a source of inspiration, displaying strength, courage and determination as she fought to control metastatic breast cancer.

Although she was in great pain, she never missed a practice, even coaching from a wheelchair when she could no longer walk.

Eli coached masters swimmer Jennifer Leach-Trask and inspired her to challenge herself to a distance swim.

In September 2013, Eli’s condition was deteriorating, so Leach-Trask organized the inaugural Swim for Eli Sept. 9 to celebrate Eli’s birthday.

Leach-Trask was one of seven people, led by Eli’s son David, who swam a 10-kilometre course from Cedar Creek to the CNR wharf in West Kelowna.

Other swimmers chose a shorter course along Gellatly Bay.

Eli was in her wheelchair on the CNR wharf, greeting each swimmer with a hug as they finished.

She died Nov. 21, 2013.

Leach-Trask has hosted the Swim for Eli in Gellatly Bay every year since as a two-km swim that followed the shoreline. However, the number of participants has dwindled.

Last year, she approached the Across the Lake Swim Society to see if it would be interested in adding a third swim to its summer open water series, which already included the Across the Lake Swim Kelowna in July and the Rattlesnake Island Swim in August.

The society agreed to take over the swim and to create a page on the event website telling Eli’s story.

Leach-Trask is the race director.

After consulting with Eli’s family, the event was moved to an earlier weekend so the younger swimmers wouldn’t be away at training camp.

Approximately 140 people have registered for Saturday’s Gellatly Bay swim, which offers participants the choice between a 2.5-km or a five-km swim, both starting from Willow Beach.

“I’m thrilled with the response,” said Leach-Trask, adding it really feels like the memory of Eli and the Swim for Eli will go on.

Judging from the response in its first year, Leach-Trask said the Gellatly Bay swim definitely has the potential to grow.

Many young swimmers have signed up for the event, something Leach-Trask said would make Eli happy.

The event is spectator friendly, with people able to watch swimmers from the pathway along Gellatly Bay and from the CNR wharf.

Registration has closed, but Leach-Trask said volunteers are still needed.

To volunteer, go online to gellatlybayswim.com/volunteer. For more information about volunteering, email carmelle@acrossthelakeswim.com.

Money raised from the event funds the YMCA Okanagan Swims program, which sends all Grade 3 and 4 students in the Central Okanagan school district for basic water safety instruction.